21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He* commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Capernaum was a town on the shores of the Galilee, a place where the fishermen sold their fish in the marketplace. The foundations of the synagogue are still there, built over by a new synagogue years later, the ruins of that later synagogue have been unearthed by the archeologists. But beneath it’s foundations are the darker stone foundations of the synagogue that stood in Jesus’ day. This was one of those places where it struck me that I really was standing in a place, the very place, where Jesus stood and walked!
On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue, as he always did, and he taught the people there. In the first century, synagogues were places of study, not of worship. People still worshipped, with their sacrifices, only at the temple in Jerusalem. It was after the destruction of the temple that the synagogues became places of worship. The people were astonished because he spoke with “authority”. Jesus’ authority, of course, comes from God, from who he is – but how did that show to the people listening? Somehow, while they did not understand who he was, at least not yet, they sensed something greater, some authority in his teaching. Perhaps, authority showed in his manner as well – nowhere in the gospels do we find Jesus hesitant or uncertain in his actions. He is sure of his vocation, his preaching, and his destiny.
There was someone there who knew who Jesus was – and that was the “unclean spirit” as Mark refers to the demons. He called out to Jesus (through the man he possessed), calling him the Holy One of God. Throughout Mark, the demons and unclean spirits know who Jesus is, while the disciples struggle to figure it out. And, throughout Mark, Jesus is more powerful than any demon. Three things to note about that, whether or not you believe that such “demons” exist as spiritual beings: 1. There are forces, such as addiction, or certain physical and psychological illnesses, that seem to possess us. And 2. Jesus, throughout the gospel, is more powerful than any forces of evil. And 3. Even the demons acknowledge who Jesus is, so, it takes more than acknowledging who Jesus is to be Christian!
Jesus tells the spirit to be quiet – Jesus is not yet ready to reveal who he is – and to come out of the man, and the spirit obeys. Now the people are doubly amazed! “Who is this?” He teaches with authority and even the unclean spirits obey him. (note – in 4:41, after Jesus calms the storm, the disciples use similar words, “Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him.”
photos: the synagogue ruins at Capernaum