All were amazed

Next Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B of the lectionary cycle. You can read a full commentary on the gospel reading here.

21 Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; 24 he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. 27 All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” 28 His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28)

Jesus has called his disciples to follow him and become “fisher’s of men.” Now, the Gospel of Mark enters a new section extending from these verses to Mark 3:6. In these verses Jesus will demonstrate a new authority as he teaches, heals, and drives out demons – and not without a bit of controversy with religious leaders locally and from Jerusalem.

The people learn how he teaches (“with authority,” vv. 22 and 27), and what effect his powerful teaching has (people are “astonished” and “amazed,” vv. 22 and 27; the unclean spirit is overwhelmed, v. 26). The repetition of the phrase “with authority” indicates that Mark wants the events of Jesus’ first teaching and first powerful action to be seen as intimately related. He not only speaks with authority — he also acts with power! The “amazed” bystanders acknowledge the teacher’s authority, yet they still have to ask: “What is this?” (v. 27).

Mark’s intention here is to make his readers confident in their Lord as teacher and healer. However, the allusion to the people’s amazement (v. 27), which caused Jesus’ reputation to spread throughout Galilee (v. 28), also has another purpose. It is precisely the people’s response of being amazed (1:27 and 5:20), or astounded (2:12 and 5:42) that will eventually bring other hostile forces to seek to destroy Jesus (see 6:14–29, where Herod is threatened by Jesus’ reputation and ends up beheading John the Baptist). Mark wants more from his readers than amazement; he wants them to be alert when Jesus reveals himself in less appealing ways. “Will you also be amazed when Jesus begins to teach that the Son of Man has to suffer much, be rejected by the chief priests, be put to death, and rise three days later (8:31)? Will you recognize him for who he is when he hangs on the cross, abandoned by most of his followers who were amazed by his first signs of power?”

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