Mark 1:21-28

The Cure of a Demoniac
(Mark 1:21-28)

INTRODUCTION

After Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John as his disciples, he went with them to Capernaum which he made as the main base for his ministry in Galilee. During his visit in a synagogue on a Sabbath day there, he preached and healed a demoniac. The Jews who were present in the synagogue were astonished at the authority with which Jesus taught and his power over the demon. Though many in Capernaum believed in Jesus and became his followers, many others rejected him later (Matthew 11:23-24). Our amazement and appreciation at the teachings and miracles of Jesus are not enough for our salvation. We need to believe in him, love him, and dedicate ourselves for his ministry.

Bible Text

(Mark 1:21) Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. (22) The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. (23) In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; (24) 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!” (25) Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” (26) The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. (27) All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” (28) His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

 Interpretation

(Mark 1:21) Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.

Then they came to Capernaum
Jesus, along with his initial four disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John, went to Capernaum. Capernaum is located at the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum had favorable factors like water for fishing, fertile land for agriculture, and a hub of international trade routes especially connecting Egypt and Damascus by the ancient highway “Via Maris”. The trade routes helped Jesus to meet people from neighboring regions and spread his message to wider areas. Jesus could also travel easily from Capernaum to nearby cities around the Sea of Galilee by walking on the seashore or traveling by boat.

Capernaum is known as “The town of Jesus” because he did most of his ministry in that village. Though Jesus grew up in Nazareth when he started his public ministry there, his own people rejected him and even tried to throw him down the hill (Luke 4:28-30). He overcame that assassination attempt and moved to Capernaum to make it as his base for preaching and serving the needy. He did most of his public ministry there. Out of his 12 apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew where from Capernaum. Though a small village, it was part of Galilee where most of the Jews lived. In spite of the great preaching and miracles of Jesus in Capernaum, that city lacked enough faith and Jesus later cursed it saying: “And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.’ For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24).

on the sabbath
Sabbath has been considered as originated from the time of creation as given in the creation account. “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:3). Before giving the two stone tablets of the  covenant inscribed by God’s own finger at Mount Sinai, God said: “Six days there are for doing work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD. Anyone who does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. So shall the Israelites observe the sabbath, keeping it throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. Between me and the Israelites it is to be an everlasting sign” (Exodus 31:15-17). Thus sabbath became the sign of God’s everlasting covenant with humanity. It has to be observed forever as a day of holiness and rest. Violation of its observance could be punishable by death.

Sabbath is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enhancement. It is observed at home and in the synagogue. The sabbath starts at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday with an overlapping of 18 minutes at the beginning and 40 minutes at the end.

Sabbath observance at home
Sabbath observance included special bread (challah), wine and candles placed on a table. Its observance include more than daily prayers and more leisurely eating. It is a day of joy and family get together. This could be more understood and valued when we look at the ancient situation of slaves, servants, and laborers who would have to work daily. Without this commandment from God, their family and personal life would have been miserable.

Woman of the house lit two candles on Friday before sunset representing two commandments on Sabbath: (zakhor) remembrance (Exodus 20:8) and (shamor) observance (Exodus 31:16). Remembrance is of God’s creation (Matthew 20:11) and deliverance of Israelites from the slavery of Egypt (Deut. 5:15). On the weekdays, people are slaves of their work for others or working for the sustenance of themselves. Whereas, on sabbath they are free from such botherations which reminds them of their freedom from the slavery of Egyptians.

Sabbath observance at home involves candle lighting and recitation of a blessing no later than 18 minutes before sunset by the woman of the house marking the beginning of the sabbath. The family then do an evening service of 45 minutes. The man of the house recites Kiddush, a sanctification prayer over the wine and prayer over the challah (a sweet, eggy, braid shaped bread). Then the family eats a festive and leisurely dinner. After dinner the grace after meals is recited in a leisurely manner. The family then study or talk on the Torah before going to bed. On the next day also, the family will have leisurely meal along with prayers and study of Torah in the afternoon followed by leisurely activities. Sabbath ends at nightfall when three stars are visible around 40 minutes after sunset. So sabbath observance involves approximately 25 hours. Thus sabbath is a day of joy, leisure, family union, spiritual nourishment by reading and reflecting on Torah.

Sabbath observance at the Synagogue
Public observance of sabbath was held at the synagogue. A ceremony welcoming the sabbath was held on Friday evening followed by the evening service. The services were conducted in a relaxed pace with more music than the weekday liturgy. After the evening service, there can be a communal meal at the synagogue or people might return to their homes for dinner. The Saturday service in the synagogue involved public recitation from the Torah, and a reading (Haftarah) from one of the prophetic books. So, recitation and study of Law and Prophets, and prayer were the major components of sabbath observance in the synagogue. Reading and commentary could be done by anyone who had knowledge in the Scriptures. (Acts 13:14-15). If a person had a religious message to communicate to the Jews, synagogue was the best place to address that.

If there were 10 or more Jewish families in a locality, they used to have a synagogue. Prayer services were done daily and more were done on the sabbath. The synagogue was administered by the ruler of the synagogue. He also was in charge of collections taken daily in cash or kind to support the poor. Food was then distributed to the poor. So the sick and poor also used to come to the synagogue seeking help. Jesus helped them by performing miracles. Another staff of the synagogue was the minister (Chazzan) who was in charge of taking care and storing away the rolls of Sacred Scripture kept in the synagogue. He was also in charge of keeping the synagogue clean, blowing the trumpet announcing the arrival of Sabbath, and responsible for primary education of the children. However, the synagogue had no permanent preacher. The ruler of the synagogue used to invite any competent person to preach based on the scripture. That was how, Jesus and apostles like Paul had the chance to preach in the synagogues. Since Jesus was a famous rabbi, he got many opportunities to preach in the synagogues. 

the synagogue
The Greek word “Synagogue” means a gathering of people or the place of assembly. The exact reason for the origin of synagogue is unknown. According to some Jewish tradition, there were assembly of Jews for prayer (1 Samuel 1:9-19) and study of Torah even during the time of the Temple of Solomon. Some believe that the synagogues were originated in Babylonia after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC. Since sacrifices were halted for a long time with the destruction of the first Temple by Babylonians, people used private homes and later started synagogues for public worship and religious studies. Some others believe that the synagogues were started by Jewish communities outside Jerusalem to pray together when the priests were busy for two weeks each in the Temple of Jerusalem during major feasts with sacrifices. The synagogues served also as community centers with provisions for gatherings, education, courtroom, charity works, and prayer halls

Even after construction of the second Temple, the synagogues continued in Jewish settlements all over the world including Rome, Greece, Egypt, Babylonia, and Asia Minor. The synagogues helped to keep the Jewish communities together in each place. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the role of the synagogues became more relevant to keep the Jewish community in each locality together. Morning, afternoon, and evening services were held daily in the synagogues. Special liturgies were held on the sabbath and on religious festivals. There was no sacrifice in the synagogue. So, there was no need of priestly service. Each synagogue is autonomous and managed by the local community.

The essential components of the synagogue are an ark where the scrolls of the Law are kept, an “eternal light” burning in front of the ark, two candlesticks, pews, and a biemah (a raised platform for reading the Scriptures and for services. An honorable seat called “Moses’ Seat” was placed for Torah readers because they were reading Moses' words (Matthew 23:2). A ritual bath (mikvah) was available on the outside premises of the synagogue, where the believers symbolically cleansed their hearts before they entered the synagogue.

he entered the synagogue and taught.
Since fishing was not done on Sabbath day, the day Jesus entered into the synagogue was not on the same day the four disciples were called to join his team. Jesus used to attend synagogue services is clear from the fact that his significant ministry in the synagogues are recorded more than 10 times in the New Testament. His frequent teaching and healing ministry in the synagogues are described as: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23).

The synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus taught and cured the demoniac, was donated by a Roman centurion (Luke 7:5) for the local Jewish community. So that synagogue was an institution of reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles because the centurion was a gentile and an official of the Roman empire.

(22) The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

The people were astonished at his teaching
Mark does not give what Jesus taught in the synagogue. However, he gives the impact that made on his listeners. They were astonished at the teaching of Jesus because they had not heard such amazing preaching before.

for he taught them as one having authority
Here Mark gives the reason for the listeners’ astonishment. They had noticed that Jesus was not merely giving his opinion. He was talking on his own behalf than depending solely upon Scriptures and previous rabbis. The scribes were not talking on their own behalf. They used to depend on previous teachers and Holy Scripture. Jesus could teach with authority because he was God incarnate.

not as the scribes
The scribes were a group of people whose main job was studying, copying, and interpreting the Holy Scripture. They thrived from the time of Babylonian exile to the destruction of the second Temple in 70 A.D. They were very serious in copying the Bible without error. Deprived of them Old Testament could not have been preserved in the past when there were no durable writing materials and copying devices. Though some of them were priests like Ezra (Ezra 7:5-6), Levites and common people also became scribes. They were also experts in the judicial procedures and served the Sanhedrin. Jews respected them because of their knowledge in the Bible, dedicated service, and adherence to the Laws. They gained authority among the Jews and joined Pharisees in opposing Jesus for his liberal approach on man-made laws. Some of them were members of the Sanhedrin and wise scribes were also titled as Rabbi.

Besides carefully making copies of the Pentateuch, the scribes studied them, and provided guidance to the people for application in daily lives. Their applications and directions were not written down but transmitted as oral laws from generations to generations. So the preaching of the scribes was based on the written or oral laws and was not coming as their own. Their teachings were not self-assertive and so did not carry weight. The top level scribe was known as Rabbi. The difference in Jesus’ teaching was that he taught with his own authority rather than relying on the traditional teachings or directions of the Rabbis. Unlike the Rabbis or scribes, Jesus teaching carried weight also because he practiced what he taught.

(23) In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;

a man with an unclean spirit

The demon-possession is presented as a common phenomenon in the gospels. Before the development of scientific clarity on the causes of diseases, the cause of many disabilities were attributed to the evil spirits. The demons were considered to be present specially at tombs and desert places. Epilepsy (Mark 9:17-27), mental disorder (Mark 5:1-5) and physical disabilities like dumbness (Matthew 9:32-33) and blindness (Matthew 12:22) were attributed to the demons. When the sick persons were convinced that they were possessed by demons, they would produce symptoms of the demon-possessed. For such people, the cure could happen only when they were convinced that the demon had left them.

“Unclean spirit” and “Demon” are interchangeably used in the Gospels to refer to supernatural beings who could enter into the life of humans and take control of them (Matthew 12:43-45, Mark 5:2-5). The ancient world, including Jews, believed in the influence of demons. There were different believes on their origin. Some believed that they existed even from the time of creation. Another belief was that they were the souls of the wicked people who have died continuing their malicious deeds entering in others’ bodies. The demon possessed person spoke as demons. The demons caused many physical and mental disorders in the possessed person. Such an “unclean spirit” possessed person was considered as unclean that was indicative of ritual impurity.

The Catholic teaching is that Satan (devil) and demons were angles created by God. But they became evil by their wrong doing (CCC 391). These created spirits had rejected God and his reign out of their free choice (CCC 392). The sins of angels were unforgivable and they had no chance for repentance like there is no chance of repentance for humans after death (CCC 393). However, the influence of Satan and demons will have an end with the second coming of Jesus Christ.

(24) 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!”

he cried out
It is not the real person who cried out but the unclean spirit in him. The literal meaning of the original text is, "a man in an unclean spirit." So the man is possessed and controlled by the demon that he had not control on himself. He was “under the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19). The demon made use of the physical man as his instrument.

What have you to do with us
The unclean spirit felt threatened by the presence of Jesus. He was speaking in plural form representing all the evil spirits. They had dominion on the people so far. They recognized the Son of God and knew that his arrival would lead to their downfall. People will go after the Messiah and they would lose their hold in the world. So, they were threatened by his presence and questioned him.

Jesus of Nazareth
The ancient Jews used to have only one name and added either the father’s name or the name of their place of origin. This was to identify them from others with the same first name. Examples of Biblical characters with native names are Simon the Cyrene (Luke 23:26), Mary Magdalene (Mary from Magdala) (Luke 8:2), and Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:51). Since Jesus spent much of his private life in Nazareth and since he had no human father, he was also known as Jesus of Nazareth. However, Jesus was also known as Jesus, the son of Joseph (Luke 4:22, John 1:45, 6:42).

Another reason for calling Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth,” according to the Evangelist Matthew, was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies. “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean.’” (Matthew 2:23). However, there is no prophesy or even mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament. Matthew might be associating the resemblance of the name Nazareth with some Biblical references to the Messiah. “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (Isaiah 11:1). The word for shoot or bud in the original text is nēser that has resemblance to Nazareth. The annunciation of Samson’s birth, who delivered Israel from Philistines, was that he will be “a nazirite for God.” (Judges 13:5,7). That also has resemblance to the native place of Jesus. Since Nazareth was a small village and not significant in the history of Israel, the association of that name with that of Jesus was also an expression of the humble origin of Jesus as was his birth in a manger. The insignificance of Nazareth is clear from the response of Nathaniel to Philip: “ "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46).

Have you come to destroy us?
The demons knew that Jesus came to destroy their domain. In fact Jesus expelled the demon from the person at that time. The demons knew what the humans do not. They recognized the identity of Jesus and so they feared him as their enemy. So their cry was a spontaneous reaction immediately after they saw Jesus and even before he addressed them. The ministry of Jesus had alarmed the evil spirits because he had come to their domain of sinners.

I know who you are - the Holy One of God!
The demons publicly declared the identity of Jesus. It took at least two years for Peter to recognize and acknowledge that Jesus was the “Holy One of God” (John 6:69). The demons were acknowledging the divinity of Jesus because “Holy One” is a title of God (Psalm 78:41). In Isaiah 55:5, the Holy One of Israel is used in reference to King David who was the anointed King of Israel. The demons recognized that Jesus was the anointed one from God who came as the promised successor of King David. Jesus understood that they knew the truth and “he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Messiah.” (Luke 4:41).

(25) Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”

Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet!
There were two reasons why Jesus did not want to reveal his identity by the demons.

(1) His hour had not arrived. Jesus had even asked those who received healing from him and his disciples to keep his Messianic identity secret until he himself would reveal in due time.

(2) Jesus did not want any witness of him from the unclean spirit. He avoided any partnership with them. Even without that, the Scribes from Jerusalem had criticized Jesus saying: “’He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of demons he drives out demons.’ (Mark 3:22). The unclean spirit did not utter any word after Jesus rebuked him to keep quiet.

“Come out of him!”
Using his divine authority, Jesus commanded the demon to come out of the demoniac. The word of Jesus has the power over everything in the universe including the unclean spirits.

(26) The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.

The demon had no choice but obey the words of Jesus. Without any objection or condition, he immediately came out of the man with signs of demon possession and expressing the demon’s dissatisfaction to leave him. The people present could notice the signs of demon leaving the person by the convulsion and loud cry of the possessed person. According to Luke, “Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm.” (Luke 4:35). The presence of Jesus had prevented the demon from doing any harm.

(27) All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

All were amazed
The people in the synagogue who were astonished at Jesus’ teaching were also amazed at the power of his words to expel demons.

asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
The people in the synagogue noticed the difference in the authority of Jesus in his teaching as well as in the way he expelled demons. There were exorcists during the time when Jesus did his public ministry. However, they did not base on their authority and followed some established procedures. Jesus was different in the sense that he could expel demons with his own authority and with simple commands. The demons had no choice but obey the command of Jesus. That was the cause of amazement for the people who witnessed the exorcism by Jesus in the synagogue. They could infer that only Messiah could expel demons with his own authority. No humans could expel demons without the power from God.

(28) His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

People in the synagogue were so amazed at what Jesus taught and did that they began to spread the news about Jesus all over Galilee. That was because of the difference in the teachings and humanitarian actions of Jesus different from all others.

Message

1. Jesus regularly attended the synagogue services and Temple sacrifices as per prescriptions of the Law. That gave him opportunity to teach and serve the people. Let us be enthusiastic for participating in the church services.

2. The scribes gave importance to the human interpretations of the Law by the rabbis. Jesus was emphasizing on the true spirit behind the Laws and prophets that were read and reflected in the synagogue services. Let us also give importance to the love of God and service to humanity.

3. Jesus took initiative to teach the people. Let us also make use of every opportunity in communicating the Word of God in our life situations whenever and wherever possible.

4. The demoniac did not and could not seek help to relieve him from his helplessness. The demons were trying to defend themselves. However, Jesus had compassion on the possessed person and took initiative to liberate him. As followers of Jesus, we also have to help the helpless on behalf of Jesus.

5. Jesus could get popularity through the demons. However, he asked them to keep quiet. We shall never compromise and make friendship with demoniacs or people who try to misguide us.

6. Jesus’ fame spread everywhere throughout the region of Galilee. It was done by the people who witnessed the authoritative preaching and exorcism done by Jesus. When we serve the Lord, we shall not be seeking fame by ourselves. We should seek reward in heaven rather than in this world because the fame did not save Jesus during his trial, instead that led to his crucifixion.

7. Though many in Capernaum believed in Jesus and became his followers, many others rejected him later (Matthew 11:23-24). People of different religions and even non-believers appreciate Jesus as a great leader and philanthropist. A Christian is more than that. We need to believe in Jesus, love him, and dedicate ourselves for his ministry.