18 February 2013

Mark 1:21-28

"They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority." (v. 22)


Earlier the Gospel writer reports Jesus proclaiming, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdomof Godhas come near;  repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:14). Here Mark's Gospel doesn't talk about the content of Jesus' teaching in the synagogue; it is more interested in the manner of the preaching and the reaction of the people.

People would have been used to the scribes, who studied the law and taught it to the people, quoting what earlier distinguished rabbis had said about a passage, thereby giving a second-hand account, and relying on the eminent names to give authority to what they were saying. However Jesus was giving his own interpretation and speaking on his own authority. This must have appeared quite shocking on one hand, but also very exhilarating.

It would be the equivalent in our day of a congregation used to rather dry commentaries on Bible passages and doctrine hearing a visiting preacher talking with passion and conviction about living in a relationship with God. It would have been a case of their faith coming alive and seeming very relevant to their daily lives. The people would probably have left that service feeling both greatly encouraged and also personally challenged about their relationship to God.

This synagogue service also brings Jesus into contact with a man with an unclean spirit (verses 23-26). It was common at that time for certain illness, particularly mental illnesses, to be attributed to demon possession, and so exorcism and healing were often linked. The spirit challenges Jesus, but also recognises, and is overcome by, his power. Through Jesus, the man is both healed and restored into a right relationship with God.

The writer is at pains to tell us that Jesus' authority is not only recognized by the ordinary people but also by supernatural beings. This is presented as further evidence of who Jesus really is.

To Ponder

  • What do you find most helpful in a church service?
  • What makes you feel that someone is speaking with authority?
  • How do you react to the idea of demon-possession as portrayed in this passage? Is exorcism still valid today? Or would you express the condition in a different way?

Bible notes author

Philip Sudworth

Philip has retired from a career in the education service. He is now kept busy by voluntary work with local children's charities.