Are You With Me?

Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus 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.
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.
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.
(Mark 1:21-28)

Scripture Study

1:21 Jesus proceeds with his new disciples to Capernaum, a small fishing village on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and the home base of his ministry in Galilee. According to Mark, Capernaum was the hometown of at least two disciples (v. 29), and Jesus took up residence there (2:1). By the first century AD most towns with a sizable Jewish population had a synagogue where the faithful gathered for prayer, readings, and instruction in the Law and Prophets. As a Jew faithful to the religious customs of his people, Jesus regularly observed the sabbath by attending the synagogue services (see 3:1; 6:2).

1:22 Since any man conversant with the Scriptures could be invited to comment on the readings (see Acts 13:14–15), Jesus takes the occasion to teach. Mark says nothing here about the content of Jesus’ teaching. What is most important is its effect. First, the people are astonished, for he teaches with authority. Mark will repeatedly emphasize the wonder, awe, and astonishment of Jesus’ listeners at his words and deeds (6:2; 7:37; 10:26; 11:18). In contrast to the scribes, Jesus is not merely offering his opinions or handing on traditions of biblical interpretation. He speaks as one who has authority in himself to reveal the definitive meaning of the Scriptures.

1:23–24 Second, Jesus’ teaching has the intrinsic effect of exposing evil so that it can be expelled. Mark does not explain whether the man with an unclean spirit was a regular synagogue attendee or whether he came specifically to disrupt Jesus’ sermon. But in the presence of Jesus, the grip of evil on the man comes to light and he cries out in fear and rage, What have you to do with us? The spirit is challenging Jesus’ encroachment on the demons’ formerly uncontested territory, evidently aware that his coming portends their downfall. The spirit claims hidden knowledge of Jesus’ identity, a frequent demonic tactic (3:11; 5:7) that may be intended to catch Jesus off guard or gain some control over him. But the attempt is futile.

“Holy One” is a term usually reserved for God (1 Sam 2:2; Hosea 11:9) but is occasionally used for those who are consecrated in his service as priests or prophets (Num 16:5–7; 2 Kings 4:9; Ps 106:16). Holy One of God is an accurate title for Jesus (see John 6:69), but not one that he wants publicized at this point in his mission. He will reveal his identity on his own terms and in his own time, to ensure that it will be rightly understood.

1:25–26 Jesus sternly rebukes the spirit: Quiet! (literally, “Be muzzled!”) Come out of him! In a final show of defiance, the unclean spirit convulses the man as it departs, helpless before Jesus’ word of command. Already the Baptist’s prophecy of a “mightier one” to come (v. 7) is being fulfilled before the people’s eyes. The demon’s tyranny is over and the possessed man is set free.

1:27–28 The people react with amazement: What is this? A new teaching with authority. They recognize an intrinsic connection between Jesus’ teaching and his power to dispel evil. Jesus’ teaching is “new” not only because it has never been heard before, but because it has power to accomplish what it communicates (see Isa 55:11). The teaching itself—the revelation of the good news of God and his plan—frees human beings from their captivity to evil (see 1:39; 6:12–13). As a result of this first manifestation of divine authority Jesus’ fame spreads everywhere throughout Galilee.

Scripture Reflection

Friends, in our Gospel Jesus came to Capernaum and entered the synagogue on a Sabbath, where he began to teach. Then it says that the “people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” The ordinary teachers would have appealed to their own teachers and authorities, and finally to Moses and the Torah, which were unassailable.

Now what would prevent the people from saying that he was just crazy? Well, watch what happens next. Into the synagogue there rushed a man with “an unclean spirit.” And he knows who Jesus is: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

But then Jesus demonstrates his authority: “‘Quiet, come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit convulsed him with a loud cry and came out of him.” The claim to God’s own authority is now ratified by showing power over the spiritual realm.

And now they—and we—have to make a decision. Are we with him or are we against him? If he is who he says he is and who he demonstrates himself to be, then we have to give our lives to him.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.