Yr B ~ Epiphany 4 ~ Mark 1:21-28
Other gospels want us to be awestruck by Jesus. I think the writer of the Gospel according to Mark wants that too, but first he wants to make sure he’s got your attention. So he tells his story at a breathless pace and he leaves you befuddled and off-balance with the crazy stuff in this first chapter.
The heavens get ripped open and God’s Spirit is no longer thought to be separated from humanity. Jesus is driven into the wilderness and tempted for 40 days and then comes back. He travels to Galilee and starts preaching. He walks up to total strangers and says “Follow me” and they follow. And now he strolls into a synagogue and totally sends their worship service sideways.
Your head should be reeling at all this!
It’s just astonishment after astonishment.
Jesus will render us awestruck soon enough – but for now we’re being run over with a steam roller!
At this point, the appropriate reaction is to be thunderstruck!
I’m going to have some fun with this passage and take it into some strange interpretive territory, but first I want to acknowledge its primary meaning. First we’ll think about what it would’ve meant for the first audience hearing the story – and no, I don’t mean the audience Jesus taught in that synagogue that fateful Saturday. I mean the audience hearing Mark’s gospel in the early 00-70s.
First let’s think about synagogues. Nowadays synagogues function much like this church does, as the gathering, spiritual teaching, and social justice ministry focal point for a community of faith. But in Jesus’ day the centre of their religious and cultural world was the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogues that Jesus goes into are more like prayer gatherings in someone’s house.
They would’ve had leadership but it wasn’t a Pharisee or a Priest (well, maybe in the bigger towns, but certainly not in tiny Capernaum). The leader was a scribe, which means a learned man, a village elder, someone with some religious training but not a formally authorized religious person. Today we might all them a Licenced Lay Worship Leader. This is because everything formal was focused on the Temple. All the sacrifices and pilgrimages and authorized teachings were at the Temple. Village synagogues were very low level compared to that.
And that’s important because it’s not like Jesus walked into a place like this with an organized denominational structure and a formally authorized trained ordained minister and just walked up, gave the scribe and elbow, and took over.
And this is why the people were thunderstruck at his teaching – because he didn’t teach like the scribe who was doing his best but didn’t have a whole whack of theological education behind him. (Then again, neither did Jesus!) Jesus taught with authority. Jesus taught with fresh insight and wisdom – more than they’d ever heard before.
Immediately, a man possessed by an evil spirit confronts Jesus.