Hands Free – Tuesday, 1st week in ordinary time – Mk 1:21-28
The first day of Jesus’ pastoral ministry was both busy and eventful. Perhaps the sleepy village of Capernaum had never experienced a Sabbath such as this. Capernaum is where Peter came from, and it is here that Jesus made His de facto headquarters while in Galilee.
The village of Capernaum sits on the banks of lake Galilee and was established in the second century. Capernaum, which means village of Nahum (the prophet) is also known as the ‘brown hill’ because it is built from black volcanic basalt rock. It had a population of one thousand five hundred residents and was a fishing village. The ruins of this village exist even today along with the synagogue.
Jesus enters the synagogue whose Sabbath services consisted of prayers, scripture reading and a teaching. One did not have to be ordained to conduct services, and so any one with sufficient learning could be invited to teach. The Gospels record that there was something different about the teaching of Jesus, for they recognised a ‘new teaching with authority.’
To understand what this new teaching with authority (exousiais) was, one needs to understand how the religious leaders of the time taught. These ‘teachers’ were originally merely scribes, who by virtue of their education began to take on the job of being self-appointed religious teachers.
In teaching others, they either referred to the scriptures or to some other Jewish rabbi. Jesus needs no reference for He is ‘the’ authority. The word authority comes from the verb exesti, meaning “it is free” or “it is permitted.” In other words Jesus’ teaching does not need any approval, for He teaches with sovereign freedom.
But this new teaching and His authority is also seen in the first miracle that He works. There is a man in the congregation (as may be in ours) with an ‘unclean spirit’. Make no mistake, this is not some illness masquerading as an unclean spirit; this was a man possessed by an evil force.
The devil now sees his agenda in peril for when he asks, “What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth?” in truth, the devil is actually saying, “Couldn’t you have just left things as they were between us?” The evil one loves the status quo especially if our lives are lived under his dominion. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus constantly wages a war against the evil one and hence it should come as no surprise that His first miracle was to rescue the man in the synagogue from the evil one who tormented him.
In rebuking this evil spirit who seeks to prevent His ministry, the Lord uses just words, no actions. This little detail which may escape our reading is crucial to our understanding of the authority of Jesus, for in this, the people see and recognize not merely words, but words backed with actions.
Here is a healing that was ‘hands free’ for the power of the spoken word is enough to drive satan away.
Fr Warner D’souza