• Overview of Mark's Gospel
First Acts of Public Ministry
Jesus' Initial Public Offering sets the theme and trajectory for the rest of each gospel. To get a full overview of the reign of heaven on earth we need to combine all four.
• Luke: Jesus reads a liberation-jubilee passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 and announces its fulfillment in him. That very day. Luke 4:16-21.
• Matthew: after calling disciples and then spending time healing and teaching, Jesus embodies the new Moses! Beginning with the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, his Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 through 7 explicates and interprets the ten commandments.
• John: Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast. A party! John 2:1-11
• In Mark we find Jesus in the synagogue on the sabbath and teaches. But then in a preview or foretaste of his finished work on Good Friday and Easter, he drives an "unclean spirit" out of a synagogue visitor.
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and 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." 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
28 At once Jesus' fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
What was the "unclean spirit"? Scholars aren't sure, but in this particular situation it definitely could have been a psychotic mental illness. It could have been addiction or substance abuse. The unclean (demonic, unwelcome) spirit was inside the person, embodied and unwelcome. It possessed him.
Unclean also evokes the Levitical holiness codes along with the emphasis on ritual cleanness in Jesus' culture (remembering unclean is not sinful).
The phrase can be a stand-in for anything that disrupts the integrity and wholeness of an individual human, of a community, of an organization or an institution. In addition, this exorcism provides a glimpse of the cosmic Christ with authority over all the powers and principalities we especially read about in Colossians and Ephesians.
• ...he taught them as one having authority... 1:22
The assembly in the synagogue (gathering place) has just witnessed Jesus' words driving out the unclean spirit; despite the text telling us they were amazed, their asking if this is a new teaching seems tame, although they add "with authority." The word here is authority rather than "power."
• What is this? A new teaching … with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits…1:27
What do you think of this near-conflation of teaching and healing?
God gives all of us, baptized into Christ, authority over unclean spirits. A new teaching? From Jesus? To us? Now what?
• Textual note: the Greek uses the same word "spirit" for the Spirit of God and for the unclean spirit possessing the person in this story.
1:23 After Jesus had been teaching "just then" why do you think the man entered the synagogue? Because it was Shabbat and that was where you're supposed to be? Or maybe he wasn't devout, and had heard about Jesus?
1:24 "What have you to do with us? I know who you are?" How did the man recognize Jesus? What do you make of the plural "us"?
• How do we recognize Jesus?
I thought it was serendipitous that I discovered my notes from discussing this passage back in San Diego during 2015. I'd planned to rework, condense, and expand them some because they were in that "how did I ever do that?" category, but I had a couple of necessary and important interruptions as I tried to finish this. Maybe those ideas will filter into some of my reflections on Mark in the weeks to come.