Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath in Capernaum with his disciples. He teaches… and everyone is amazed and surprised because he speaks with authority – and not like the other scribes and teachers.
How do you think this authority displayed itself? How was his teaching different? Some commentators refer to the fact that often the scribes and teachers of the law would interpret the text and spend time giving examples of tradition, etc. Jesus, on the other hand spoke directly – as if HE were the authority, as if HE himself could explain the text. Something about his delivery, presence, confidence – was very different than what they had seen and heard from their other teachers.
A man with an unclean spirit suddenly cries out “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
Jesus answers him “Be quiet! Come out of him.” And the evil spirit shakes the man and comes out of him with a scream. The man is set free, liberated, apparently healed.
And once again it says that the people are amazed at his authority. “Is this a new teaching? Even the demonic world answers to his authority!”
And finally, we read that news of Jesus spread rapidly in the neighboring areas.
So what can we learn? How can we apply this text to our own lives?
- The story may challenge some of our assumptions about healing, or the spirit world where demons exist. We see right away in this account that there is a description of a man that is a prisoner, his life diminished, in chains of some kind … due to the work of the demonic. As Christians, we may even interpret this in different ways – some accepting demon possession literally – some understanding it more as an historical way of describing mental or emotional illness, or even seeing it as an account to be taken metaphorically. I personally find it compelling to take this case literally – but regardless of where you stand, we need to understand the context of this story and how it may have been understood by Mark’s readers.
- Just prior to this story, Jesus has been baptized (v. 9-12). At his baptism, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and enters him and a voice from heaven announces his identity. Jesus is, in a sense, possessed by the Holy Spirit of God. And now in Capernaum, Jesus – for the first time – encounters someone who has an unclean or demonic spirit. The unclean spirits recognize right away who Jesus is, and that Jesus possesses the very power of God. Throughout the gospel of Mark the authority of Jesus becomes an important theme. Later, we will see Jesus speaking to the winds and the waves in the same way that he spoke here to the unclean spirits. “Be Quiet!” Thus according to Mark, Jesus has authority – not only over the spirit and demonic world, as in this case – but over the physical world as well.
- The good news for us – is that in Jesus, the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, has entered into our realm and all of the demonic powers in our world (all of the evil) are no threat or match for that power! If thinking of an exorcism seems like a stretch for you then you might want to see these demonic powers as any evil or negative power that diminishes, or takes away from the abundant and full life that God intends for us; anything that can take us captive and diminish our spiritual vitality. Unhealthy religious institutions, corrupted governmental powers, racism, twisted ideologies such as white supremacy, an unfair economy, broken relationships, family members that are abusive, addictions of various kinds – all of these may fit into this category.
- Jesus speaks about his authority directly to his disciples in the final chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus, in this great commission and sending out of the disciples is saying – “I have authority and I give it to you. Go… and do these things… and I will be with you!” Can we believe that Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, has the power to enter our lives and heal? Do we believe that we, through the Holy Spirit, have also been given authority to work for the healing of others? The text says “Be amazed!! Jesus has that authority!”.
Let’s trust in the power and authority of the Holy One of God that can bring healing and wholeness to the world around us. If you’re like me, you’re often more prone to focus on our own smallness and lack of power. Maybe it’s time once again to look clearly at the authority we have been entrusted with…. and to be amazed!
The above is a summary of the message shared during our JCC worship time (via ZOOM) on Sunday, January 31st.