The Gospel text for the Ordinary is Mark 1:21-28.
Mark’s Gospel opens with a title (1:1), followed by a prologue (1:2-13). The prologue consists of two parts with the first (1:2-8) focusing on the Baptist, while the second (1:9-13) focuses on our Lord. The two parts have many similarities which in effect highlight the superiority of our Lord over John. For example, John is descirbed as “a voice of one crying out,” where as “a voice” comes from heaven declaring of Jesus to be the “beloved Son” (and) with you I am well pleased.” :Like the word one, beloved implies a uniqueness, but it is a uniqueness of an entirely different order and force. John is in the desert, and our Lord too will find himself in the desert; but whereas John is in the desert preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus is in the desert being tested by him who brought about the necessity of man’s need for repentance, namely, Satan. The prologue ends on this note of conflict, a conflict which continues in today’s reading.
Sandwiched between the conflict with Satan (1:12-13) and the confrontation with the unclean spirit (1:21-28) Mark records the beginning of Jesus preaching, followed by his call to discipleship and his promise of a future mission (1:14-20). Such sandwiching is common in Mark’s Gospel and today’s reading has such a structure (see under Notes On This Sunday’s Gospel below) and the message here could not be more clear: Just as Our Lord is tested by Satan and opposed by the demonic, so too will his followers (His Church) be.
After the prologue the body of Mark’s Gospel begins. The Gospel body is generally divided into two major parts (1:14-8:21 and 8:22-to the end). The first part has three subsections, the first consisting of 1:14-3:6. Since today’s reading is taken from this first subsection it will be useful to see an outline of it.
(A) Jesus comes preaching (1:14-15).
(B) The call to discipleship and the promise of mission (1:16-20).
The Body of Subsection One: (In two parts)
Part 1. The Ministry Begins in Galilee (1:21-45)
a. Confrontation and authority (1:21-28)
b. In Simon’s house his Mother-in law is raised up (1:29-31)
c. More cures at Simon’s house (1:32-34)
d. Mission to other towns (1:35-39)
e. Jesus heals a leper and show his faithfulness to the Law (1:40-45)
Part 2. Opposition Increases (2:1-3:6)
a. The Son of Man has Authority to forgive sins (2:1-12)
b. Sinners called to repent (2:13-17)
c. The new cannot be confined to the old (2:18-22)
d. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28)
e. The confrontation between life and death on the Sabbath (3:1-6)
Aspects Concerning the Above Outline in Relation to This Sunday’s Gospel:
1. Notice how part one opens (1:21-28) and closes (1:40-45). A major theme of the opening is Jesus authority to teach (1:22, 27) while the major theme of the ending is Jesus fidelity to the Law of Moses shown in his command to the leper to fulfill the requirements of the Law (1:44). The beginning and ending of the first half (1:21-45) of this subsection (1:21-3:6) prepares for the second half (2:1-3:6) of the subsection. As noted in the outline above, the second half of the subsection focuses on opposition to our Lord. Mark contrasts Jesus’ understanding and teaching of the Law being with the understanding and teaching of his opponents.
2. Notice how part one opens and how part two ends. In the opening of part one (this Sunday’s Gospel Reading 1:21-28) Jesus is in a synagogue, on a Sabbath, being confronted by evil. The evil spirit insists that he (they) have no connection with Jesus, and asks if He is going to destroy him (them). Part two ends with Jesus in a synagogue, on a Sabbath, being confronted by Jewish leaders who are looking to accuse Him over a question of Law relating to the Sabbath. The account ends with their seeking to destroy Him. Implicit in the leader’s activity is the fact that they have no connection with Jesus for they wish to keep the new wine in old skins (2:18-22). Like the unclean spirit in this Sunday’s reading they are in the realm of the demonic.
3. Notice how part one (1:21-28) has as a major theme our Lord’s authority to teach. This parallels the opening of part two (2:1-12) where a major theme is Jesus’ authority to forgive sins.
Notes On This Sunday’s Gospel:
The passage is structured as a “Markan Sandwich” but is a bit more developed than usual for Mark who usually prefers a simple sandwich such as that found in chapter 14:1-11. A1. Jewish leaders form a conspiracy against Jesus (14:1-2) B. A woman anoints Jesus for his death (14:3-9). B2. Judas joins the leader’s conspiracy against Jesus (14:10-11). Today’s reading is structured as follows:
A1. Jesus comes to Capernuam (1:21).
B1. Astonishment at Jesus’ authoritative teaching (1:22).
C. The exorcism (1:23-26)
B2. Amazement at Jesus’ authoritative teaching (1:27)
A2. Jesus’ fame spreads throughout Galilee (1:28).
A1 and A2 are basically place settings; while B1 and B2 focus on the crowds response to Jesus’ teaching. The focus on Jesus teaching is hinged around C, the purpose of this structure is to indicate that His teaching is not merely verbal, but includes his actions. The divine plan of Revelation is realized simultaneously “by deeds and words which are intrinsically bound up with each other” 4 and shed light on each another (CCC 53).
1:21. Capernuam, on a Sabbath, in a synagogue. Capernuam is a fishing village on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Iit was the hometown of Simon Peter and Andrew whom the Lord had promised: “I will cause you to become fishers of men” (1:17, literal translation). Jesus would make this town (and probably Peter’s house) his home, and he would spend a great deal of time in this place showing his disciples how to fish for men. Sadly, much of His ministry in Capernuam was without effect, they wanted the glitter of His mighty deeds but not the gold of His moral demands (Matt 11:23-24; Mark 1:35-39).
The Sabbath will be the pretext for some controversy in 2:23-28 and 3:1-6. The Law of Moses forbade the labor of humans and animals on the Sabbath, but some Jewish leaders interpreted this so stringently that they turned the Sabbath into something detrimental to life and happiness. As Jesus teaches in the two texts just noted, human need and the value of life determine the significance of the Sabbath, not the interpretation of it given by his opponents.
In Mark the synagogue is a place where demons are found and conflict and unbelief are encountered (1:39; 3:1-6; 6:1-6. No doubt, however, that many of His followers first came into contact with him in such settings. Mark’s basically negative emphasis towards the synagogue probably reflects the break which had taken place between the synagogue and the followers of Jesus due to the instigation of the leaders (12:39; 13:9). But see the story of the synagogue official in 5:21-43.
In spite of the fact that Jesus performed the exorcism of the spirit the people do not approach him on behalf of their own illnesses or those of others; this stand in contrast to the next pericope which shows Jesus in Simon’s house being told of his sick mother-in-law and her subsequent healing (1:29-31) even though it is still the Sabbath. In contrast, the people of Capernuam wait until sundown, the end of the Sabbath, to bring the sick to our Lord.
1:22 Astonishment, wonder, awe, ect are typical responses to our Lord in Mark’s Gospel (34 times). The responses are usually negative (so it seems to me) but can lead to further enlightenment for those who are open to Jesus (10:23-27); or a hardening of heart and attitude against him (6:1-6). The people’s astonishment comes from a recognition that Jesus teaches with authority, unlike the scribes. For Mark this is not about Jesus ability (or the scribe’s inability) to teach, rather it is about His right to teach. This right is rooted in His very person; is based upon who He is and the reason why He was sent.
1:23-24. There was a man with an impure spirit in their synagogue; he cried out ‘What is there between you and us, you Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us ? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God.’ (My translation)
The term impure (unclean) is cultic, implying a separation from that which is holy. It stands in stark contrast to the title the spirit gives to Jesus: “The Holy One of God.” The unclean spirit highlights the contrast in his very first words: “What is there between you and us, you Jesus of Nazareth?” The emphatic you Jesus of Nazareth also provides a contrast with the spirit, as does the emphatic singular the Holy One of God, for the spirit is identified as singular, yet he sometimes speaks in the plural: what is there between you and us? Have you come to destroy us? On whose behalf is he speaking? Perhaps other demons, but more likely he is being portrayed as the mouth-piece of those in the synagogue who would come to reject Jesus. If this is the case, then Mark is implying that the rejection of Jesus is the manifestation of demonic influence. Recall what was said above concerning this subsection of the Gospel; it ends with the Jewish leaders leaving a synagogue planning how to destroy Jesus (3:1-6). The conflict which began with Satan’s testing of Jesus in the desert includes human beings.
1:25-26 And Jesus censured him saying, ‘be muzzled! Come forth from him. Then the impure spirit caused him to spasm and crying out exceedingly loud came forth from him. (My translation)
censured is the Greek word epitimesen, which is usually translated as “rebuked;” but the word has judicial connotations which I believe censured brings out more clearly. Jesus is acting as a king/judge issuing a judgment against the spirit, thereby reclaiming for the man his own personality. In the Septuagint the term is used to translate the Hebrew word ga’ar, and is used for the rebuking of Satan in Zech 3:2. Jesus uses the word against demons in 3:12 and 9:25; against the wind (a hostile force) in 4:39; and in response to Peter who had rebuked Him in 8:30-33.
Be muzzled. The Greek phimoo has the sense of tie shut. In chapter 3:23-30 Jesus will portray Himself as one who must tie up the strongman Satan in order to plunder his house. The word used in that text is different than the one used here but can be taken as a synonym.
Come (exerchomai) forth from him. The spirit had asked Jesus if he had come (erchomai) to destroy “us”; here we see Jesus’ response: ex-erchomai. “I have come to destroy your hold on possessions not your own, so come out of the man.”
The spirit caused him to spasm. See 9:20, 26
And crying out exceedingly loud came forth from him. The loud cry of the spirit in verse 23 had been articulate, here it is just meaningless, inarticulate noise, for the spirit had been silenced from talking by Jesus.
1:27 And they were all amazed insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying: What thing is this? What is this new doctrine (teaching)? For with power he commandeth even the unclean spirits: and they obey him. (Douay-Rheims Translation).
As already noted (see the catechism quote above) Jesus teaching is manifest in both word and deed, consequently one could say that the preaching of the Gospel is itself a breaking of Satan’s power. In Luke chapter ten Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples to announce that the kingdom of God was at hand. Upon their return they noted that even the demons were subject to them, clearly and effect of the preaching. In 2 Tim 2 St Paul tells Timothy to teach and correct opponents as part of his ministry because perhaps “God may give them repentance to know the truth; and they may recover themselves from the snares of the devil by whom they are held captive at his will.” (2 Tim 2:25-26 Douay-Rheims)
1:28 and His fame spread. The word translated as fame is akoe which means “hearing”, thus literally: “the hearing of him spread.” This is an odd way of putting it; why not write “the news of him spread”? Akoe is the root of the word hypakouo=’a hearing under’, which is translated as obey in the previous verse and used of the unclean spirit’s response to Jesus. Hypakouo refers to something done in response to what is heard. Unlike the demon, many of the people who hear (akoe) of Jesus and, indeed, hear him issue commands, do not obey(hypakouo) Him. A minion of “the father of lies” shows himself to be more honest than a cafeteria Catholic. The former admits in honesty that there is nothing between himself and Jesus and obeys him; but the cafeteria Catholic seeks to establish (or rather claim) a relationship between himself and Jesus by bending the teaching of Jesus to fit his own will.