Mark 1: 21–28
Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum with four of his disciples where people are astonished that he teaches with such authority. A man in the synagogue, possessed by an evil spirit, recognizes Jesus as the “Holy One of God” who has come to destroy the spirits of evil. After Jesus casts out the evil spirit, the people in the synagogue are amazed at the power and authority that Jesus possesses, and go out to spread his fame throughout Galilee.
More of the implications of this passage may reveal themselves if we remember the narrative context into which Mark places it. After this cure of the demoniac, Jesus cures Simon’s mother-in-law and many others afflicted either by illness or by evil spirits.
It is with these acts of power done out of compassion for the needs of others that Jesus begins his public life. Immediately before, Mark has told us of the baptism of Jesus, with the Spirit descending upon him and the voice from heaven saying to him, “You are my beloved Son.” (Mark 1: 11) Jesus is then tempted by Satan not to trust that affirmation. After the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus goes to Galilee where he proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand. He calls disciples to follow him, and together they go to the synagogue at Capernaum (today’s gospel passage).
The cure of the demoniac represents the beginning of the messianic age when the power of Satan’s kingdom will at last be destroyed (“Have you come to destroy us?”). Jesus enters a world in which Satan reigns, teaches with the authority of God, and with compassion casts out evil spirits that hold people in bondage and fear. Christ’s mission, begun here, will not be completed until the end, “when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power … The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15: 24–26).
Jesus called disciples to be with him as he began his mission at Capernaum; now he calls us to be with him as he continues his mission in the towns and cities where we live. The Spirit descends upon each of us at baptism, and a voice from heaven says to each of us, “You are my beloved.” We, like Christ, will often be tempted by Satan not to believe these words when the power of evil seems to be invincible. We will also be tempted to use power and authority, not with Christ’s compassion in service of others, but to advance our own reign.
Later in his gospel, Mark talks about authentic Christian discipleship. Two disciples who were with Jesus at Capernaum (James and John) seem to have assumed that discipleship means enjoying positions of power. Jesus summoned all his disciples and explained his notion of power. He said that among the Gentiles, rulers make their authority felt and lord it over people. But, he added, among his disciples, whoever wishes to be great must be the servant of all. This was the notion of power that led Jesus to teach, to cast out demons, to cure illnesses, and finally to give himself up to death on a cross with the supreme power of love. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45).
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.