Summary: Ephiphany 4 (B). Casting out an unclean spirit at the synagogue in Capernaum, Christ reveals that he has authority over the unseen. Therefore we may trust Him to protect us from the devil and all forces of evil.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Because He says so”
In our Gospel today, Jesus continues on His ministry. You will recall that He has called His disciples to follow Him. And that He had been proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand. That is to say, that the reign of God, or the rule of God, was at hand. We see in the lesson today, that the reign of God is at hand, in two ways. It is close at hand in time, and in fact, begins to unfold. And it is close at hand in location. It is right here, right on hand as it were, in the person of Jesus. We shall see that Jesus has authority, and that His authority is not only over the seen, but also the unseen.
Most of us have had experience of parents interacting with children, and in telling them what they must do. The scenario sometimes goes like this. “I told you to do it” “But why do I have to do it.” “Because I said so.” Maybe you said those words as a parent or a teacher. Or maybe you recall hearing them as a child. Or perhaps you have overheard the scene played out.
In any event, it comes done to the point that the parent need not explain, and that parent's word must be obeyed, because as Mother or Father, they have authority. That is, they have the “say-so.” And that’s what “say-so” is, isn’t it? It’s about authority. The force of the words is not just in the words, but in the authority of the one speaking the words.
That is why when brother or sister tries to tell their siblings to do something, it will quickly draw the response, “You’re not the boss of me.” Brother or sister may have used the exact same words that Mom or Dad used, but they don’t have the authority to back it up. They don’t have the “say-so.”
Jesus and His disciples come into Capernaum, and it is likely Friday, for the Sabbath comes immediately at sunset on Friday, and one could not travel on the Sabbath. And so they are in the synagogue, and Jesus is teaching. Remember, synagogue worship was different from temple worship. There was only one temple, in Jerusalem. It was the place of sacrifice. It was the place where sin and impurity was atoned. There was some teaching also in the temple courtyards, but the primary activity of the temple was sacrifice.
While there was only one temple, there were many synagogues, in each community, just as we have churches. "Synagogue" means to come together, it is a Greek word. We use its Latin equivalent, "congregation", which also means to gather together. And just as we use "church" to mean building or people, so here, sometimes synagogue can mean the building, other times the people. And there was not one rabbi or teacher at each, who did all of the teaching, but all of the men who were learned of the scriptures might speak.
So Jesus was teaching. But His teaching was different. Our text says, he taught "as one having authority, and not as the scribes." To get the picture, we need to know how the scribes taught. They would teach from the scriptures, and they would be careful to say, “Moses says this,” or “the Prophet such and such, wrote etc.” Sometimes they might refer to what another scribe or rabbi, a famous and respected one, often deceased, had said about a passage. But they would never say it themselves. For they themselves had no authority. They had no "say-so."
But Jesus teaches, “as one having authority.” He not only says it, but He has the right to say it. This amazed the people. What kind of man would have such authority to speak on behalf of God? Jesus continued teaching, and the people were whispering to each other and were amazed. While he taught this man act outs.
He is the one possessed of an unclean spirit. He was in their synagogue. Remember, how synagogue can mean the place or it can mean the group of people? So we don’t know here if Mark is only telling us that this man happened to be inside the synagogue at the time, or whether he was a member of the synagogue. I tend to believe that he was a member of the synagogue, as only Jews could be inside, so unless he had traveled and was visiting, as Jesus was, he lived in Capernaum and so was a member.
It is okay that we don’t know exactly whether it was place or people, for what it does tell us, is this: that we cannot escape evil, here an unclean spirit, by where we go, the kind of place where we are. Evil is everywhere. Nor can we escape it by being religious, the kind of people we are. Evil comes to all people. That was so then. It is true today. In your own life you know that you cannot run away, physically, from evil. And you know that evil will come up against us, to tempt you or to harm you, or both. Young or old, rich or poor. Bad things happen even to good people.