Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

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.

Mark 1:21-28

One of my favorite sports movies is Miracle. Miracle is about the 1980’s United States Olympic Hockey Team and its win over the team from the Soviet Union. Until that point, the Soviets had dominated the sport, and there was mounting political tension, so this “miracle” came at just the right time.

I do love a good miracle story, and apparently, St. Mark did as well. There are eighteen stories of healing in Mark’s Gospel, thirteen of which have to do with healings, and four of those have to do with exorcisms, so clearly, Mark likes to punctuate his stories with miracles. However, the story is very often less about the actual miracle and more about the story behind the miracle.

The miracle in the movie was not the win; the miracle was the work that it took to get there that enabled the victory. The story was about picking the right team and conditioning them to play together as one unit. The miracle was what took place the months before they even took the ice.

Sure, Jesus drove out the “unclean spirit,” and the man was made whole again. But the story is about the shift in teaching that Jesus is bringing to the Synagogue. The Synagogue, unlike the Temple, was the place for teaching and instruction, not worship and sacrifice. The Jewish law stated that wherever ten Jewish families gathered, there had to be a Synagogue. There was no “Senior Pastor” as we think of it today. When the men gathered in the Synagogue, it was the Ruler who called upon someone to deliver the teaching; that is how Jesus was able to deliver his message.

When the Scribes taught, they would refer to Scripture and other writers and commentators, not unlike what I do in sermons. They would not teach on their own authority or interpretation but base it on all that had come before.

If you saw the Movie Yentl, you will recall scenes of a group of men gathered around a table in a room full of books. There was usually an elder who guided the conversation, but the discussion usually was centered around an issue and what had been written about that issue in the past. Although the teaching itself was authoritative, no one spoke as if they had all the answers.

Then Jesus comes along and changes all of that. Jesus taught with personal authority. He spoke with independence. He cited no authorities and quoted no experts. He spoke with the voice of God!

The Unclean Spirit recognized Jesus and called him the “Holy one of God.” In turn, Jesus rebuked him and told the spirit to “be silent” and “come out of him.” He did not cite any authority other than his own to do this. This was Jesus, using his authority as the “Holy one of God” to free the man of this spirit, and those watching were “amazed” at his teaching.

St. Mark places this story at the very start of the ministry of Jesus, so the tone is being set for all that will come next. Jesus is no ordinary teacher but one that needs to be listened to. With this appearance in Galilee, Jesus has ushered in a new way of teaching and a new teaching, which will continue to be revealed.

The people were less amazed that the spirit was removed and more amazed at the power of the words of Jesus. Jesus did not just teach with facts; he taught with authority, and those words caused a change in someone’s life. Jesus’ teaching was not only informative; it is transformative. And that was the “new teaching.”

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