Jesus visits the Synagogue and heals a man with an “unclean spirit”
Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out. Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! (CEB)
If you look up the word “authority” you will find suggested synonyms as follows: power, jurisdiction, command, control, mastery, charge, dominance, dominion, rule, sovereignty, ascendancy, supremacy, domination; influence, sway, the upper hand, leverage, hold, grip; (informal) clout, pull, muscle, teeth;
You might make a case for some of those when applied to Jesus – I quite like “Jesus has teeth!” – but I think there are probably better ways of saying what they were getting at.
I don’t often resort to Greek, but we’re all grown-ups, so here goes… the Greek used here in Mark’s Gospel is “ἐξουσίαν”. Greek scholars even wiser than me tell me that a good way of translating this in this context would be “being free from the need for external approval.”
How do the synagogue attendees see this in Jesus?
I’m going to have a guess… well – two guesses:
- Because (as Jesus tells us elsewhere) he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – so he oozes it – it leaks out of his very being! He also gives this oozing authority to his disciples (“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases – Luke 9:1) Maybe this kind of “authority” – we might call it spiritual charisma? – comes from our closeness to the source of all authority, in other words, from the quality of our discipleship.
- Because Jesus’ words and preaching and teaching MATCH his living. He is the real deal. We might use words like “integrity”, “authenticity” and “genuine” to describe the same kind of attribute today.
Despite the dramatic nature of this incident in Mark’s Gospel, I suspect that the kind of authority Jesus has – and the kind of authority we can speak with is not (like the synonym list) heavily weighted towards power and dominance, it could be a gently-spoken authority. People who I consider to have this Jesus-flavoured “authority” are most often not dominant at all… Jesus, after all, took a towel and washed their feet.
The person who rarely pushes herself to the front to be heard, who says little – but when she does speak it’s because she has something worth saying… people stop to listen.
The person who speaks gently and honestly and whose words have already been spoken 100 times in the way he lives his life and models the Gospel…
so, yet again, the gospel challenges me – because that rarely describes me!