From the abundance of the heart – Tuesday, 1st Week in ordinary time – Mark 1:21b-28

The Gospel of Mark tells us the Jesus enters Capernaum, an ancient fishing village, with his band of four disciples whom he had called to follow. We are told that Jesus entered the synagogue and he taught there. If you go to Capernaum today you will still see the Capernaum synagogue known also as the white Synagogue. This is a fourth century AD synagogue built on the remains of an earlier first century AD synagogue which Jesus taught in.

Synagogues or as they were called in Greek, ‘synagein’ translates as ‘to bring together’ or ‘a place of assembly.’ Synagogues were the result of the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 596 BC. Since the temple was destroyed there was no place for sacrifice and worship. In order to meet a need, the community met in private homes for public worship and religious instructions. With this the synagogue was born.

A synagogue would a have a ruler who would plan the service. We know the name of the ruler in Capernaum even though it is not mentioned in today’s text. But further in Mark 5:22 we are told that the name of the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum was Jairus who pleaded with Jesus to lay his hands on his daughter. Synagogues did not have ordained ministers as we would have in a Church today. An attendant of the congregation would read the scriptures and someone would be called to interpret it.

Scripture simply tells us that on this occasion Jesus taught and the congregation was astounded. Clearly we are told that he taught them with authority and his teaching was not like the scribes.

Let us look at who Jesus is compared with before we look at how he taught. For four hundred years before Christ, prophecy had ceased. Malachi was the last prophet and from that time on the prophetic voice was lost. In this time the scribes arose to prominence. The scribes were the ones who drew up legal documents and copied the Old Testament Scripture. They devoted themselves to the study of the law and the determination of its applications on daily life. Noted scribes had their own disciples and many of the scribes were members of the Jewish council.

Yet we know that these scribes who preached were only able to quote some other Rabbi or another authority when they taught the scriptures. Compare this with Jesus who taught with authority. To understand why the teaching of Jesus made a deep impact we need to look at this word authority. The Greek word for authority is ‘exousia’ and is related to the verb ‘exesti’, meaning “it is free” or “it is permitted.” In other words, ‘exousia’ is the “sovereign freedom” of one who acts without hindrance.

Jesus is the authority; he did not need to quote someone else. It is for this reason that his teaching came from the depth of his being. In today’s Gospel we are not told what Jesus taught but we are told the effect that his teaching had. We are not told of his diction and style but what happened to the people when they heard him. This inner authority, the power to speak surely and freely, true and unafraid, is straight from God. As such the purity and power of his word astonishes those who heard him on that ordinary morning in that small-town synagogue. This is not a one off incident for again in Mark 6:2, when Jesus enters the synagogue in Nazareth and preaches and once again the people are astonished at his teaching.

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