A new way of teaching

28 January, 2024 4th Sunday Year B

Listen to reflection

In today’s gospel, the Evangelist Mark, from whose gospel we will take the readings this year (Year B), tells us about the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

 

Last week, we learnt of Jesus choosing his disciples. This week, Mark describes Jesus’ first public action. In important ways, this portrayal of Jesus here at the outset of his public life encapsulates the key elements of Jesus’ person and ministry that inform Mark’s whole gospel. In this brief passage we learn two vital things about Jesus: he teaches with authority and he has power over evil.

 

In the first few verses, Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum. He is, after all, a faithful Jew. It is the sabbath. And there he begins to teach. To the utter amazement of those in the synagogue – for no one knows Jesus, has heard of him or where he’s from – he teaches with extraordinary authority.

 

But this puzzling thing is then followed by another astonishing thing: an exorcism, when Jesus commands and rebukes an unclean spirit to come out of an afflicted man; here too he demonstrates extraordinary authority. Even a demonic spirit obeys him.

 

In this way, Mark describes that, in his very first public appearance, Jesus teaches with authority and performs an exorcism with similar authority. The people perceive something radically new here, and there is something compelling about the congruence of Jesus’ teaching and his actions. They exclaim: “What is this? A new teaching—with authority!”

 

It is interesting to note that it is the unclean spirit – not the synagogue goers – who actually recognises Jesus and calls him by his name: “Jesus of Nazareth . . . I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Notice too that the synagogue goers exclaim “What is this?” not “Who is this?” At the end of this gospel, the centurion will exclaim the truth Mark wants us to understand: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

 

So Jesus not only teaches with authority (and his listeners were clearly used to teachers who teach without authority), but what he teaches in word and in action is very clearly a NEW teaching!

 

His teaching is the good news of the coming of the Kingdom; his actions enact the good news he proclaims, demonstrating his power and authority.

 

As we go through this liturgical year, our readings from Mark’s gospel will highlight these essential characteristics of Jesus’ person and ministry: Jesus as teacher, who teaches with authority and whose teaching is the truth; and Jesus as victorious over the forces of evil and darkness, even death.

 

He is indeed the Holy One of God. Let us place our faith and trust in him, listen to him, and follow him. He doesn’t promise that it will be easy, but he does promise that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 

Anne Hunt

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