Feb. 1, Mark 1, 21-28: the teaching and the curing

"They" entered Capharnaum (on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee); that is, Jesus and his disciples. "He" taught on the Sabbath in the synagogue; he is the only teacher in his group. The people in the synagogue were astounded by Jesus’ teaching, because he was teaching with authority, i.e. on his own authority. No scribe, i.e. specialist in the law, taught on his own authority; he only interpreted what was handed down to him by the authority of Moses. Jesus was his own authority, and depended on no one. Joined to this description of Jesus’ authority when teaching is a story about his command over the unclean spirit(s). The relationship of Jesus to the demons is peculiar, in that he does not simply overpower them, but he commands them and they obey; he is not simply victor, but he is the One to be obeyed – "He commanded and they obeyed", Mark says. No one in Jewish history had ever exercised authority like this over the demon world. Indeed, demons or evil spirits were more powerful than human beings. Thus it was said, "Woe to him who is possessed; who will free him?" Mark is reluctant to let Jesus be defined by power. Mark is happy to present the immense power of Jesus, but he knows that his story will end with a powerless Jesus; unless one is ready to follow a powerful-powerless Jesus, one is not ready to ’carry his own cross’ as Jesus promises. Disciples will see power, wisdom and holiness in Jesus as never seen before; the only figure in the Old Testament that shows the power, wisdom and holiness of Jesus is God Himself. But to see only this facet of Jesus and ignore the humiliation and powerlessness of a figure punished with the punishment of a criminal – this is to fail to fathom the full identity of Jesus. He is glorious, but also suffering. Why is this so? There are many reasons, but one is that the disciple who is to carry a cross has a model of trust and obedience in Jesus who suffers pain and humiliation, to death. As one cannot forget this painful part of the Christian life, so one cannot ignore all sides of the person Jesus, as they are all meant to strengthen the disciple. What is very interesting in Mark’s story is his linking together, in the final verses, of "new teaching in authority" and the expulsion of demons. The two stories, one of teaching and the other of exorcism, should fit together, as Mark sees it. What seems best to explain this linking is the emphasis already placed by earliest Christianity on the power of the word of Jesus. His word which produces physical and spiritual miracles is potentially no more helpful in the search for happiness than is his word of teaching. This way of thinking about Jesus’ word corresponds well with the traditional (OT) understanding about the power of God’s word for the good of human beings. Indeed, if miracles were a hallmark of Jesus’ public life and were no longer so many in the time of Mark’s Gospel (about 70 AD), the Christian comes to depend almost totally on the word of Jesus teacher for his happiness. The miracle of exorcism, then, points up the power of Jesus in his teaching: it is his teaching which will provide one with happiness. John Kilgallen, SJ
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