After Jesus had spent time in the desert, then called four companions to leave all and follow him, Jesus and his four came to Capernaum, a town on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, about twenty or so miles east of Nazareth. Mark tells us four stories he has chosen about Jesus’ visit here. Mark now begins to string together episodes from the life of Jesus which will deepen our understanding of ’Messiah and Son of God’. 1. Jesus teaches in the synagogue of Capernaum to the astonishment of his hearers. Whatever he taught resulted in the general opinion that he had authority when teaching, and in this way was unlike the scribes. These professional teachers of the meaning of the Law of Moses and its traditions only interpreted the Law; they did not have authority to amend the Law. Jesus, on the other hand, exhibits from the beginning that he has authority over the Law, to amend it as he thinks right. Joined to this Marcan observation about Jesus is the cure in the synagogue of a possessed man. The cure is remarkable because with a word, and nothing else, Jesus drives out the demon. Moreover, Jesus’ words show that he is commanding the demon, and so demonstrates that even over the demon world Jesus is Master – something no human being was. Precisely because of its show of superhuman power and command Mark places this miracle first in his Gospel. The story closes with the right conclusion. The word of Jesus in teaching is joined to the word of Jesus in healing; both words of the Messiah and Son of God reveal Jesus, but especially for Mark’s audience in a time when miracles were few, the word of teaching, Mark insists, is as powerful in spiritual healing as ever, and as powerful to heal in its own way as is Jesus’ word of psychological healing. 2. The cure of Simon’s mother-in-law again is briefly told so as to underline that all Jesus needed to do was grasp the woman’s hand and help her up; the fever left immediately. The power of Jesus is supreme and unchallengeable; it is also is perfect in that the woman was able not simply to get up, but to go about her chores in full health. 3. At the end of the day’s work in Capernaum, folks brought all their sick and possessed to Jesus. They had heard right and looked to him for help; he did not fail them, even to dominate the demon world once again. Earlier a demon had identified Jesus as ’the Holy One’, a sign that the demon world knew very well who Jesus was. Mark prefers that Jesus’ identity be kept a secret, till his resurrection; then one will begin to realize the depth of the meaning of Jesus. For now, Jesus fulfills the expectations and hopes of a powerful Messiah. But wait; we must pass through the dark period of the cross. 4. Jesus showed himself unique in his teaching with authority; also he showed himself immensely powerful, making people wonder who he is. Now he shows himself pious, spending the entire night in prayer. Naturally, people want to keep the wonderworker to themselves, in their own town. But Jesus argues that he did not come for that. Now he defines the role he has understood God to have given him at his baptism: he is to preach repentance to all of Israel. Miracles are secondary in Jesus’ life-purpose; primary is Jesus’ call to repentance and the teaching which explains what the repentant person looks like. Miracles sometimes, preaching repentance always; such is Jesus’ calling to the end. John Kilgallen, S.J.
Mark no 8 Sept 17