29 January 2012

Mark 1:21-28

"What is this? A new teaching - with authority!" (v. 27)


Mark began his Gospel by making a huge claim - "the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). And the rest of the Gospel is Mark's defence of that claim.

Jesus has just called Simon and Andrew, James and John, from their nets to follow him (Mark 1:16-20), and now they accompany him on 'a day in the life' of the Son of God, described in the rest of chapter 1. They are learning what it means to share Jesus' life.

The day begins in the synagogue at Capernaum, on the Sabbath. Jesus is at home with these key elements of the Jewish faith. The synagogue had developed as an accessible place for all, probably during the exile when people couldn't get to the temple in Jerusalem. And keeping the Sabbath had been fundamental to Jewish identity since the very beginning of their life as the people of God (Exodus 20:8).

It would be normal for a visiting rabbi to be invited to teach in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-17). So was Jesus behaving like an ordinary rabbi? Far from it! The worshippers were immediately aware of the difference - he taught them "as one having authority" (Matthew 7:29), unlike the scribes. The story does not make it clear where this authority comes from, but the readers can recognise that it is the unique, authority of the Son of God.

Teaching is an important part of Jesus' ministry (though Mark doesn't tell us much of what he teaches). But the story moves on to show how Jesus' authority runs much deeper.

In Jesus' time, most illnesses were attributed to unclean spirits or demons, and the Gospels tell us repeatedly that Jesus had control over them. We don't need to spend long considering what kind of illness might be described here. What matters is that Jesus has control over hostile powers that limit and damage human life.

The words the demon speaks (at the centre of the story - verse 24) were an attempt to gain control over Jesus by naming him (cf.Exodus 3:13), but Jesus succeeded in controlling the spirit instead. However, the spirit spoke of "us" - to defeat one spirit is not to defeat them all.

This opening sketches the basis of Jesus' claim to be Son of God. He transforms Jewish tradition by his great authority, shown first by his teaching, then by his control of an unclean spirit.

To Ponder

What do you think are the hostile powers in today's society?

How do you think Jesus would show his authority over those hostile powers in our society?

What would you want Jesus to drive out of your life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.