Over the last few weeks during the readings from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we have heard of the first teaching and preaching of Jesus in his call to repentance because of the breaking in of the kingdom of God. Last Sunday we heard the call of the first four disciples. Today, Mark takes us to the beginning of his actual ministry on the first day in the life of Jesus. He goes, on a Sabbath day, to the local synagogue in the town that becomes his new home base, K’far Nahum (Capernaum), and begins to teach. The Synagogue was a relatively new reality in Judaism, beginning most likely during the period of the Exile, after the destruction of the temple of King Solomon, and before the exiles began to return to Jerusalem under the Persian King Cyrus and the building of a new temple. Many Jews did not return and remained in the diaspora, perhaps because life was better and more stable there, and perhaps because they found the synagogue service to satisfy their religious needs.
Synagogues could be buildings, but their basic reality was the coming together of a community, which could meet anywhere, including in private homes. The service was somewhat fluid, but it generally was comprised of only three components: a time of prayer, a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Tanakh (most commonly from the Torah), and then an interpretation of the reading. As a teaching institution, the focus was on the instruction that was offered. Usually, there was no music and no songs were sung, and no sacrifices were offered. Each synagogue (and at the time of Jesus there were as many as 480 in the city of Jerusalem) would have three positions: a leader or ruler who ensured the orderly running of the service, a collector and distributor of alms, and a minister (Chazzan) who cared for the Tanakh scrolls and made them available. There was no regular teacher or preacher. It was up to the leader to find someone to teach each week, or invite someone to teach during the service. That person could be a member of the congregation, or a visitor; they might be a recognised scribe or rabbi, or someone who seems to have the necessary teaching gifts, like Jesus. Scribes taught the Hebrew scriptures, but did so based on earlier interpretations – either written in the Tanakh, or in the body of oral teaching such as the Mishnah, or the oral teaching of earlier Rabbis or scribes. What Jesus brought to this teaching was personal authority: “you have heard how it was said, but I say to you…”
Mark wants us to know that the healing ministry of Jesus when he displayed his mighty works and authority was constitutive of his whole ministry. In fact, more than half of the public ministry of Jesus in Mark is comprised of miracle stories. A significant example of these are the release and healing of people possessed by demonic powers – with four major sections of his gospel taken up with these stories – see Mark 1:23-26; Mark 1:39; Mark 5:1-20; Mark 7:24-30; Mark 9:14-29. In a typical account of an exorcism, there are six stages:
- The meeting of Jesus and the possessed person
- The resistance of divine power
- Powerful response of Jesus (‘Be muzzled’ or ‘Shut up!’)
- A Command to leave
- The Departure of the demon
- The Reactions of the witness – usually astonished, amazed or afraid.
Jesus still has authority over our lives and every area of sin, darkness, addiction, shame and evil in our lives. As we pray for our country on this long weekend, let us allow the authority of Jesus to bring healing into every area that needs his love and mercy.
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