In today’s gospel, the Evangelist concentrates upon a single Sabbath when Jesus’ synagogue teaching provoked a reaction from the people present. The two words that describe the people’s reactions are: ekplessomai (v. 22) and thambeo (v. 27) – “astounded” and “amazed.” The first term, more literally means “be beside oneself” – or in the slang, “to be blown away” It comes from something that is so incomprehensible that one’s mind can’t fathom what has been experienced.
These are not terms of faith. In the Gospel of Mark, miracles never produce proper faith.
What is it about Jesus that amazed them? There are a number of possibilities: his new teaching, his authority, the way he related to the man with the unclean spirit, or how he commands and the spirit obeys. Intuitively, I think Jesus’ word, presented with a sovereign authority which permitted neither debate nor theoretical reflection, confronted the people with the absolute claim of God upon their whole person.
As I mentioned on Sunday last, the words in Baptismal Rite of the Church are akin: “Child, this community welcomes you with great joy, and in its name I claim thee for Christ by the sign of the cross – and invite your parents and godparents to also trace the cross on your forehead.” An absolute claim upon their whole person. This is more clear in Kiswahili: Nikudai kwa Kristu. I claim thee for Christ. The verb kudai is a powerful word in Kiswahili. It is a word that the tribal chief and the magistrates use – such is the power of “claim”. In our baptism we are bound solemnly, forever to the family, the community, and to Christ.
Are we astounded or amazed? We should be.