In the first part of this chapter we get the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Mark moves very quickly through the ministry of John the Baptist, and the baptism of Jesus. Following the baptism John’s ministry comes to a close as he is arrested and Jesus’ ministry begins. Jesus goes into the region around the sea of Galilee proclaiming the “good news of God.” We get Mark’s first explanation about the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus walks along the sea of Galilee and calling his first disciples. Questions we might ask ourselves as we come to section are: How is this scene in the Synagogue a continuation of what has happened so far in the Gospel of Mark? How is Jesus teaching in the synagogue a continuation of his proclaiming “good news” of God? How do these events illustrate what it means for the Kingdom of God to have drawn near?
Directly following the calling of his first disciples, Jesus enters into a nearby synagogue on the Sabbath bringing his message to those who have gathered. They are amazed because Jesus’ teaching is like none other they have ever heard. He teaches with and authority they do not find among the scribes and those who commonly taught in their synagogue. This distinction between the authority and power with which Jesus teaches and that of the teachers and scribes sets up a continuing separation between the other teachers of the day, and the authority with which Jesus speaks. This is an ongoing comparison throughout the gospel of Mark. When Jesus teaches he is not simply speaking on and from traditions which have been handed down. He did not quote and compare the teachings of respected rabbis, as other teacher and scribes in this community would have done, but he speaks as one who himself has authority in his own rite.
Immediately, this scene in which Jesus’ authority is being made manifest, is interrupted and we are quickly moved on to the next episode. There is apparently a man who was demon possessed there in the synagogue. I am commonly asked when teaching this passage what does it mean for him to be demon possessed? Is this an ailment which we would attribute to another cause due to our modern understanding of medicine and psychology? The face of the matter is we do not know. We do know this was a power which was beyond these people’s understanding. This man was afflicted with something which they could not explain nor comprehend. They understood the power that bound him to be demonic. Whatever it was it represented an untamed, power and they themselves had neither the power, nor authority to control. Nor were they able free this man from it. What he is doing in the synagogue and why he was permitted to be there are questions which go unanswered by the gospel. Mark simply tells us he is there and begins to engage Jesus in conversation.
Jesus has just finished teaching (or might even still be in the middle of teaching) with this power and authority which takes his listeners off guard and surpasses that of the teachers and scribes from whom they commonly hear. This man must have been there while Jesus was teaching because even the demons who have overtaken him understand who Jesus is, as the messiah, and the authority Jesus possesses. This recognition causes them to cry out, “What have you to do with us…?” The general notion of the phrase isn’t precisely clear in English. This phrase is one which is usually associated with judgment or combat and is meant to mean, “What are you doing here? You don’t have any business with us – yet.” At the same time it seems to acknowledge that Jesus has the power and authority (because it is Jesus’ power and authority which are on display in this passage) to destroy them.
Most exorcists of the day relied on the name of some higher power to practice their skill or art. Some exorcists were portrayed as travelling magicians who needed to cast spells (which is why later in the Gospel, some of the Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub). When Jesus moves against this demon, Jesus does not “cast a spell all Jesus does is speak the command, and the demon leaves the man. Neither does Jesus need to appeal to any other authority; his power and authority are enough to cast the demon out on its own.
After Jesus does this the people acknowledged the authority he has shown, even if they were, not able to fully understand the source of that power and authority at this time. They simply understand Jesus is better than and above the scribes and teachers of the law. We can assume this man is member of this community. He would have been someone they all knew, and his issue with the demon would have been a matter of common knowledge. He was likely the brother, cousin, nephew or even son of someone who was there that day. Perhaps, as a known person, he was seen a generally harmless, and thus not kept out of the synagogue. All this to say the scribes and the teachers we also aware of them and have been unable to free this man of his demons, whereas Jesus is able to do so with a simple word of command. They have never seen this kind of power, they have never heard this kind of authority. They are amazed and they begin to ask questions about who Jesus might be.
These kinds of questions about who Jesus is, who he might be, what his teachings might mean, these are the kind of questions one begins to ask when their orientation is beginning to change. These people are not yet disciples but they have begun to move in the direction of Jesus. They are asking the kinds of questions which if sought after, if encouraged and shaped can cause a person to become a disciple. We see the beginning of the their movement toward knowing and understanding who Jesus is, what his message is and what it truly means for him to be the messiah.
Following this event Jesus’ “fame” spreads throughout the region. This need not be interpreted as people following his message, his teaching, or any belief in the preaching. His fame spreads because he has done a miraculous thing. People are curious about a new powerful teacher, a miraculous healer. Someone who can cast out demons was someone who would draw a crowd; people want to see what is going on for themselves. The hope is that their curiosity will become a desire to know more about who Jesus is and cause them to begin to implement his teachings into their lives. People from the crowd might someday become disciples but for right now they are there for the “show.”
What we might ask ourselves, is how does Jesus’’ teaching and show of power continue his ministry and the spread of the “good news?”
What does it mean for us to know that Jesus taught with an authority which differed from the authority commonly seen in his day? What does Jesus power and authority over the unknown power of these demons say about Jesus’ own power and authority? What does this short episode have to do with Jesus’ proclamation of the “good news?” How is Jesus’ ability to speak a word and free this man come to us as “good news?” What does the power and the authority Jesus manifests in this passage further show us what it means for the Kingdom of God to be near?
In this passage we see crowds begin to gather. We hear crowds questioning what this means. None of these people are disciples but they are beginning to gather around Jesus. What does this tells about what it means to be people who are continuing the teachings and work of Jesus in this world? What does it tells us about what to expect from those who have not yet come to believe? How do we react to people who are not yet disciples but are willing to listen to question, to “come and see” what is going on, but might not be ready to believe, might not have heard enough to believe, are still a bit skeptical about this message we are proclaiming?