Progressive reflections on the lectionary #1

Mark 1: 21-28

Progressive reflections on the lectionary #1

The story is full of action, and full of symbolism - sometimes the fast paced text obscures the symbolic nature of the activity. In the synagogue at Capernaum Jesus runs up against one of the key groups who oppose the early Jesus movement, the so called ‘Scribes’. These are the people who copied out the books of the law, and are probably the same people referred to elsewhere as ‘legal experts’ or ‘teachers of the law’.

Mark uses a device in this passage which he also uses elsewhere - a kind of sandwiching. See how in v22 he says the people were ‘astounded’ (rather too weak a word, it should be something more like ‘in uproar’) because “he taught them as one who had authority, unlike the scribes.” Then again in v29 people were ‘amazed’ and said: "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him!" These two reactions are the bread around the cheese of the exorcism that sits between them.

So what to make of that particular story?

Mark has three key exorcism stories, the most famous, perhaps, is the Gerasene Demoniac, and understanding what’s happening in that one helps us understand this one too.

Perhaps you can pick up one of the key words which just about makes it through to our times there – Gerasene – related to our word ‘garrison’ – remember the Demon’s name too: ‘Legion’. The Demon in that story, the Legion in the Garrison, represents the occupying Roman powers, in other words it’s a story about authority.

And when you see what Mark’s doing (he’s been doing it from the very beginning when he briefly parodies an Imperial announcement and tells a different sort of ‘gospel’ of a different sort of ‘son of God’), you can see it everywhere, including in this story. Here the authority Jesus is battling is not Herod, or the occupying forces, but that of the Scribes. It is they who control the synagogue, it is they who are saying to Jesus the words ‘Mark’ attributes to man with the ‘unclean spirit’: ‘have you come to destroy us?’

From this perspective this is a story of Jesus the liberator, freeing people first from commercial and industrial exploitation (sea of Galilee), and now from Scribal authority (unclean spirit in the synagogue). Where to next?

Jesus the liberator opens the door for people, their task is to follow him - or as he later describes it, to ‘believe’.

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Image: Maurycy Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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