A Teacher Unlike Any Other
Ordinary 4 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 1: 21 — 28
Those who take time to ponder the previous passage in verses 14 — 20 will find a unique presentation — an icon in words, carefully crafted to present Jesus commencing His mission. He is seen to proclaim the message of salvation, in continuity with John the Baptist, and then call His first disciples. It is a Biblical treasure in its own right.
St. Mark continues the opening scenes by next reporting our Lord to be in Capernaum where in eight verses he presents another absolutely core truth about the future ministry of Jesus yet to be unfolded. Some readers who are not very familiar with the Gospels (and, perhaps, some who are) may find it uncomfortable to talk about “being possessed by an evil spirit” which calls out to Jesus from within a person. There are many explanations in circulation about this phenomenon. We recommend that you do not allow that to be the only focus in this Gospel text; in other words, let us keep it in perspective, and thus be able to discern the major lesson for the Church, which incorporates all parts of our reading.
Some Reflections On The Text
Verses 21 — 22
Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered
the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them
as one having authority and not as the scribes.
Our Lord, in orthodox custom and practice, devoutly attended synagogue and Temple worship. The president of the assembly on this occasion obviously invited him to comment on the Holy Scriptures chanted during the service. There was always a reading from the Law, i.e. the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and a second from the Haphtorah, i.e. the Prophets.
St. Mark does not tell us any of what our Lord taught: only the powerful effect it had on his listeners: they were “astonished” at both the contents and manner of His teaching. The common rabbinic style included many references to the interpretations of other rabbis. (This custom has carried over into Western style court hearings.) In all of Jesus’ teaching, he did not cite multiple rabbinic opinions and interpretations. To some, this would have seemed cavalier; to others, a reminder of the prophets who had been absent for 400 years from Israel until the appearance of John the Baptist and the Messiah, his cousin.
There is an interesting phrase in verse 22 — “and not as the scribes“. The scribes and virtually all rabbinic teachers taught the Jewish Biblical Faith by incorporating long commentaries from ancient and contemporary fellow-teachers of Judaism. Jesus never demeaned this in any way. Certainly in Christianity, we quote the Early Church Fathers and other writers of antiquity to demonstrate the organic development of the Faith from earlier sources. This is very sound and honourable. Where Christian writers have criticised Jewish teachers in doing this, it was not because they quoted earlier masters of great distinction. It was because a considerable number emphasised the commentaries and explanations of the rabbis rather more than the Scriptures upon which they were focusing. This, of course, is just as much a danger for Christians as it is for Jews — and we should be open to acknowledging our own errors in this regard.
In the above passage (verses 21 and 22) St. Mark is drawing attention to the unbalanced emphasis given to the words of the rabbis as distinct from the teaching recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. In fairness to the rabbis, there were great scholars among them who warned about this danger, and St. Mark has reflected this belief in his account (particularly verse 22). Our Lord taught in a straightforward style with only sparing reference to the great teachers who had gone before. He spoke as One delivering the meaning of Sacred Scripture and did so without “in-between” references. This was considered to be in the tradition of the Prophets.
Our Lord’s listeners were “amazed at his teaching”, not just because of its content, but because He spoke “as one who had authority” i.e. He did not hesitate to assume a personal, humble, yet dignified authority.
The people loved it!
Verses 23 — 26
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of
Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who
you are ― the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry
came out of him.
Just when Jesus seems to be going well, suddenly a voice abruptly calls out a rather incomprehensible question: “What do you want with us?” Although the speaker referred to here as “an evil spirit”, addresses Jesus as the “Holy One of God”, he makes it quite plain that the teaching of Jesus is irrelevant to him and he will have nothing to do with it. He and Jesus have nothing in common! How sensitive satanic forces are to the presence of Jesus: more so than is the case with many of His followers.
Jesus, just as abruptly, orders the evil spirit, “Be muzzled” (literally). Mercifully, He orders the odious being to leave the poor victim, which it does but not without causing as much alarm and terror as it can.
We need to note that the preaching of Jesus initially did not necessarily bring peace and bliss for all concerned, but often division and strife. However, it did result in delivery and restoration, even if the man possessed had no great desire to be freed. What our Lord’s on-lookers heard and saw was terrifying but necessary. His disciples were to learn that they, too, would be confronted with the same hideous encounter with evil; and it would become deeply entrenched not only in individuals, but also in the body of the Church.
Verses 27 and 28
All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this?
A new teaching with authority. He commands even the
unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole
region of Galilee.
For the second time “the people were all so amazed.” First Jesus taught with great authority and then he commanded the evil spirit to desist with similar authority. The convulsion of the poor man may have had the appearance of epilepsy or dementia but the people sensed some kind of connection between the two manifestations of His authority: what He spoke (the power of His Word) and what He commanded (the power of His decisive actions). They knew that this was no mere stage performance of some itinerant preacher, whose actions generally led more to wonder than genuine belief.
Here Jesus manifests the primary purpose of His miracles: to demonstrate that when He speaks, He does so with power and authority never before witnessed. This is not to say that He did not work miracles out of his compassion for the sad state people may have been in: for we know he did. But the primary role assigned to these great events was to bring people to see and understand who He was and why He had taught them or healed them. He had come to save, to deliver, to restore. This is critical to our understanding.
In our text, the people ask, “What is this?” In fact the question is really, “Who is this? — since Mark notes: “His Fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee”.
Jesus spoke with the same miraculous power by which He acted. Those who answer His call to help spread His good tidings will meet the same insults and opposition. But when (and only when) they proclaim sound, genuine, Gospel teaching, that teaching will carry the same authority Jesus demonstrated. It may not appear in such dramatic circumstances, like this, but it will carry His authority. Wherever and whenever His word is heard, His power will be present to heal and deliver people from the forces of evil which wreak havoc in the lives of so many. Our Lord does not seek followers whose faith is produced merely by the spectacular and the abnormal. Those who genuinely try to convey the beautiful message of God’s love and care for us will see much greater miracles than mass hypnotic hysteria and publicly paraded virtue. They will see the Word of God effect the most amazing changes against all odds in a world which finds religious values too restrictive and often very offensive. Actually, it is happening already, and there is much to be thankful for. But the tide is turning fast against Christian culture and its values, and we will need to increase our understanding of Jesus and His message if we are to hold any ground at all.
It is significant that St. Mark places this account at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry. It is, so to speak, a prophetic warning to the Church. What occurred in our text to an individual is just as real in the life of the whole Body of Christ: the Church. There is an evil spirit just as active in the Church, causing the same deadly effects. It has all the right vocabulary calling God the Holy One and shouting praises to Jesus. It causes all manner of miracles and amazing sights and sounds. When scrutinised, however, it is woefully obvious to the discerning that it is fraudulent. It distracts the true attention of people away from the Gospel teaching of Jesus towards an insatiable preoccupation with ever-new signs and wonders. Just how much of a hoax it is, becomes apparent when one tries to shift the focus back on to Jesus and his teaching as recorded in the Gospels: try this and all hell breaks loose, literally! The last thing this alien spirit wants is for signs and wonders to disappear, and the simple, plain Gospel message to be heard in everyday language of people making it accessible to all — instead of just those who think and claim they have been given special spiritual gifts. This is indeed the great hoax of our age and it is wreaking havoc in the Church — a Church which is increasingly being hoodwinked into believing the unreal and absurd instead of the plain truth of Jesus as He presented it and commanded it be passed on.
We draw attention to this great crisis in Christianity because of the current fascination by uninformed people with the false message and absurd antics of many mega-church, media-manipulating, self-appointed “evangelists”.
This was always going to be a problem for the Church from the early days at Corinth: that the message of the Gospel would take second place to the need for a constant flood of signs and wonders to meet the demands of some of its members for constant spiritual titillation. Is it any wonder the Gospel message is seen as irrelevant by the whole world when it becomes sidelined within the Church!
This is what the Gospel according to St. Mark is all about. Be ready to have your life turned around!
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“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
A Teacher Unlike Any Other
Ordinary 4 Year A Mark 1: 21 — 28
1. The Greek text of this passage suggests that our Lord hastened, with
2. When Jesus entered the synagogue, the evil spirit was quick to get in first
To benefit from His teaching, however, requires regular application to study,
3. Our Lord spoke in the tradition of the great prophets — not in the tradition
Let us pray for one another.
Mark 1: 21 — 28
Ordinary 4 Year B
21 10 Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he
22 The people were astonished at his teaching, for he
23 11 In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
24 12 he cried out, “What have you to do with us, 13 Jesus
25 Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”
26 The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry
27 All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this?
28 His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole
10 [21-45] The account of a single day’s ministry of Jesus on a sabbath in and outside the synagogue of Capernaum (⇒ Mark 1:21-31) combines teaching and miracles of exorcism and healing. Mention is not made of the content of the teaching but of the effect of astonishment and alarm on the people. Jesus’ teaching with authority, making an absolute claim on the hearer, was in the best tradition of the ancient prophets, not of the scribes. The narrative continues with events that evening (⇒ Mark 1:32-34; see the notes on ⇒ Matthew 8:14-17) and the next day (⇒ Mark 1:35-39). The cleansing in ⇒ Mark 1:40-45 stands as an isolated story.
11  An unclean spirit: so called because of the spirit’s resistance to the holiness of God. The spirit knows and fears the power of Jesus to destroy his influence; cf ⇒ Mark 1:32, ⇒ 34; ⇒ 3:11; ⇒ 6:13.
12 [24-25] The Holy One of God: not a confession but an attempt to ward off Jesus’ power, reflecting the notion that use of the precise name of an opposing spirit would guarantee mastery over him. Jesus silenced the cry of the unclean spirit and drove him out of the man.
13  What have you to do with us? : see the note on ⇒ John 2:4
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,