Capernaum is the base for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and the incident in the synagogue there is the first public act of Jesus’ ministry after his rather private gathering of companions for his mission.
The story of the exorcism on the sabbath is the first of four such encounters between Jesus and demonic powers. The mention of the “unclean spirit” simply tells us that there was something wrong with the person concerned: it is the opposite of what is (ritually, not morally) holy, that is, reflecting God with whom the fullness of life and being a complete human being is associated. Jesus’ acts of power, commonly known as “miracles”, are examples of the kingdom of God breaking into situations in human existence where a person is somehow impeded from enjoying full health.
In a way, this incident confirms publicly Jesus’ identity as “the Holy One of God”, recalling the private announcement to Jesus himself at his baptism. It is a feature of Mark’s writing that supernatural forces perceive who Jesus truly is, unlike the human characters in the story. This initial encounter with the forces of evil shows Jesus as the stronger one, who has authority over such hostile beings and can subdue by the power of his word. The people react with astonishment to the successful exorcism and declare that the word of Jesus’ teaching is different from that with which they are familiar, namely that of their scribes, as mentioned at the beginning of the passage. The exorcism enhances Jesus’ authority as a teacher and Mark also presents Jesus as a mysterious figure who provokes questions about himself, as throughout the Gospel narrative people will ask, “Who is this…?”
In Mark’s version of the Good News, Jesus is presented as a teacher, but there is little record of what he actually said. Generally, Jesus teaches through his deeds, which is often a more effective way of communicating a message. His acts of power (“miracles”) illustrate God’s saving action in the human realm.
In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus describes the gates of hell not being able to prevail against the Church. This description suggests the Church as being on the attack, entering the stronghold of evil and sin. Too often, we think of sin in personal, individual terms, what we ourselves do wrong. In the Bible, sin is usually something social, something seriously wrong in the way in which human affairs are organised: the existence of poor people is seen by the prophets as an indictment of society, not an unfortunate, inevitable by-product of the economic system.
If we are to continue Jesus’ mission today, then the Church has to confront those forces which deprive people of what they need to flourish as human beings. But the Church is not the bishops: the Church is the people of God. As such, the word of God has a message for us today: we are asked to interpret it in terms of our present world – and to act
Father, may your kingdom come!
(see Matthew 6:10/Luke 11:2)
Consider how you could help the Church’s involvement in the social concerns of your local area. Then get involved.
Capernaum, a city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, becomes the base for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.
Jesus’ acts of healing and the like are called “acts of power” in the Gospel tradition, rather than “miracles”.
The synagogue was a place of prayer and instruction: the Temple was the place of sacrifice.