January 28, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
To enter the passage of today’s Gospel we must recall the passage proclaimed last Sunday. The first words of Jesus in Galilee will serve as an interpretation for reading not only today’s episode but also the different Biblical passages we will encounter in the coming Sundays.
“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:14). This is the good news, the Gospel that Jesus begins to announce. God is near; He is not a distant God. He is close so that He can love us. He fulfills the expectation of man; He completes time. In the rest of the Gospel, the actions and discourses of Jesus are nothing other than an explanation of how, in Him, this nearness of God is realized, how God comes every time.
We can now understand the episode of Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum. It does not tell what He said, but it is known that his teaching generates amazement (Mk1:22) because those present perceive in Him an authority different from that of the scribes (Mk 1:22), and a new teaching: “What is this? A new teaching, given with authority” (Mk 1:27). The bystanders are amazed by Jesus’ authority.
What does this authority mean, from where does it come? What will the residents of Capernaum have understood? When a teaching is authoritative?
Jesus, in His teaching, is authoritative because He does not limit Himself to teaching the law or to interpreting it; He does not speak of anything other than Himself, and He speaks of what is His, of what belongs to Him.
There is a difference when one speaks of things which he has heard, or also what he has learned, and when instead he speaks about himself, of what he cares about, of what is part of his life.
The residents of Capernaum themselves give the second reason why Jesus is authoritative: “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mk 1:27). The teaching of Jesus has authority because it liberates. Repeatedly, in the Gospel, Jesus will rebuke the Scribes and the Pharisees because their teachings are oppressive and lay heavy burdens on the backs of the people. Not so His, which instead free, promote, restore dignity, and bring back to the origin.
His teaching is new. Not only because He says new things, but because He transforms life, He makes it new. He does not increase the knowledge of the listeners with further knowledge but works a conversion.
This teaching, nevertheless, is ruin for everyone (Mk 1:24).
It’s ruin for those who oppress others, degrade them, as the unclean spirit that possessed the man who was present in the synagogue. It is ruin also for those who reject coming into the dynamic of change, of transformation that Jesus promotes. It is ruin for those who see a threat to their authority, their power.
We will see later, in Chapter 11, that just this authority will be challenged. After having driven out the sellers from the temple, indeed, the chief priests, the scribes, and elders will ask him: “By what authority do you do these things? Or who gave you the authority to do them?” (Mk 11:28), and Jesus will not answer them directly. He will invite them to respond, in turn, to the question of authority of the Baptist, to ask themselves where he came from, whether from heaven or men (Mk 11:30-33).
It is essential to note that the impure spirit does not say anything wrong, unorthodox, but correctly proclaims the identity of Jesus, who is truly the “Holy One of God” (1:24).
In the profession of faith by the unclean spirit, true faith is lacking, the humility to receive Him as the Holy One of God. He felt Jesus is an obstacle, a stumbling block to his power over the man, and he does not want anything to do with Him (Mk 1:24).
But above all the cross is missing: this profession of faith will be “true” only when His truth will be worshipped under the cross, as the centurion will do in seeing Jesus die like this: “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (Mk 15:39).