Signpost for Sunday 1 February, 2015: Deut 18:15-20; Ps 111; 1 Cor 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28.
This Sunday is the fourth ordinary Sunday in the liturgical calendar, nothing much happening, then, you might expect.
It was just another ordinary Sabbath as far as the people of Capernaum were concerned. They went along to the synagogue expecting the same old thing, more or less. Then Jesus turned up and it wasn’t an ordinary Sabbath after all. Similarly these eight verses from Mark aren’t ordinary either.
Mark is one of my favourites; his story is fast, furious and first of the gospels to be written. On one level he writes the way your primary teacher told you not to: And… And… And… And… And… Everything happens ‘immediately’. In Mark’s gospel Jesus is action man. But Mark also packs in more than action, he gives us clues as to what this is all about, and very cleverly indeed.
In this story we’ve heard and read time and time again, I read it closely this time.
Jesus has just persuaded Simon, Andrew, James and John to leave everything and follow him. “Where to?” they, and we, are wondering. It turns out to be Capernaum – the big smoke as far as they’re concerned. And there’s a reason for that, which we won’t realise until the end of this.
There’s a reason why Jesus goes straight to the synagogue too, and it’s not just because it’s the Sabbath. This reading begins and ends with the question of authority and teaching. And whether the unclean spirit is really a demon or actually Epilepsy isn’t the point. Don’t take it literally. Mark’s using the image of an unclean spirit for a specific purpose.
Jesus deliberately goes to the synagogue because it’s a place where the scribes – the ‘lawyers’ of religious power – are. Jesus confronts their authority head on (Mark 1:22). [Read ahead to Mark 3:22, and see him associate the scribes directly with Temple power in Jerusalem.]
Is the demon then an image of authority angrily defending itself? Is the organized religion of the day presented here as doing more evil than good? Organised religion is certainly something Jesus confronts time and time again.
If that is what Mark is getting at, then no wonder the evil power recognises Jesus immediately. In the literary context of this book, evil knows perfectly well that Jesus is the holy one of God. After all, he has only just spent 40 days in the desert with Satan himself, the ultimate evil power (Mark 1:13).
But what is all this about really? A new teaching (Mark 1:27)? Yep, I reckon. And that’s exactly why Jesus whisked the four new disciples off the Capernaum. Everyone in the Galilee gossiped about the goings-on in Capernaum. Do something in Capernaum and news of it travelled fast. Hence Mark 1:28. Mark’s action man knows exactly what he is doing.