We are still in the first chapter of St Mark’s Gospel. So far, he has introduced John the Baptist and told us about the Baptism of Jesus and described how Jesus called his disciples. Now Mark begins to tell us about Christ’s public ministry and he does this by giving us the example of a typical day. We have the first half of that typical day as our Gospel text today and we get the other half next Sunday.
You will notice that this typical day is a Sabbath Day and it seems to be quite intentional that Jesus chooses the Sabbath Day to carry out most of his work. We know that this is going to be one of the most important bones of contention with the Pharisees and others.
But, if you think about it, what could be more natural than that the Messiah should conduct much of his ministry on the main Holy Day in the week. By doing so he is giving honour to God but, of course, this means that he inevitably falls foul of the nit-picking and rule-obsessed Pharisees.
This typical day begins in the synagogue where he exercised the ministry of teaching. His teaching is markedly different from the teaching of the rabbis. As we are told, ‘his teaching made a deep impression on them because he taught with authority.’
The rabbis probably taught with reference to the Law. They would mostly be quoting from one text or another and trying to explain the differences between one rule and another. We know that in their discourses they would often appeal to various authorities and most of those they quoted would be more senior rabbis. They cited these other opinions to underline the authenticity of their view and to give strength to their teaching.
Jesus takes a completely different approach and never ever quoted another teacher to back up his assertions. He did not need to since he was the Son of God and the fountain of all authority. By not using other opinions to back up his teaching he causes the people to realise that he possesses a unique authority and his teaching convinces them absolutely.
The people recognise that what Jesus is saying is something completely new and authoritative. They are deeply impressed and find themselves able to resonate at a profound level with his teaching.
Although it doesn’t actually say it in the text, most likely in the Capernaum Synagogue Jesus was using parables in his teaching as he invariably did elsewhere. This would have been another difference between Jesus and the rabbis the people were accustomed to. These parables brought a creativity and a relevance to his teaching because they were something that the people could easily relate to.
This impression of authority that the people observed as they witnessed Jesus’ first day of public ministry is also conveyed by the exorcism of the man possessed by an unclean spirit. In the Jewish world people were familiar with the ritual of exorcism. It generally involved the burning of some substance to create smoke which was used as a kind of fumigation of the unclean spirit. This is mentioned in the Book of Tobit.
But also, the one who carried out the exorcism usually recited a powerful incantation which invariably called on the names of David and Solomon to assist them. Both David and Solomon had carried out exorcisms and since the current exorcist did not have the authority to expel demons himself he would invoke their names and ancient authority to give weight to his actions.
Jesus needs no fumes nor does he need to invoke other authorities. He expels demons simply by commanding them to leave their victim. What more could one need to recognise that in Jesus here is a person deeply imbued with authority from above.
In the second half of this typical day he goes to the house of Simon and Andrew where he heals Simon’s mother in law and then goes on to conduct many other healings and exorcisms. Early the next morning he is found in a solitary place having spent several hours in prayer.
This then is presented by Mark as a typical day in the life of Jesus. It must have been a full and exhausting day and yet immediately Jesus says that they must go to the other towns in the neighbourhood in order that he can carry on his ministry in those places.
So, there is to be no let up for Jesus; he goes from place to place, he teaches, he heals, he casts out devils. Of course, as he continues his ministry a new element gradually enters and that is his controversy and disputation with the scribes and Pharisees. These conflicts become greater and greater and inevitably lead to his death on the Cross of Calvary.
It is useful for us to reflect on this archetypal or characteristic day in Jesus’ life. In considering it we realise the great depths of compassion he must have drawn on to face all those people who needed healing and exorcising. Those among us who work in the medical profession will surely recognise that they themselves are frequently exhausted in having to face hundreds of people in search of healing, day in day out.
It cannot be easy for them and it cannot have been easy for Our Lord. The long day of teaching and healing must have drained him of everything he had, hence the need for several hours of prayer before dawn. But the Divine Saviour is no slacker, he immediately starts to talk of going to the other towns to minster to the people living in those places.
As we consider this typical day in Jesus’ life, the question we are left with is how we spend our days. While acknowledging the fact that we have to earn our living and have many obligations, we still need to ask ourselves just how much of our day is spent in healing and teaching the truths of the Gospel.
You might not think that you are qualified to be casting out devils, but let me suggest that you might be wrong on that one since fighting the evil one is the duty of every Christian.
The key, of course, in Jesus life is that all this work was backed up with prayer. And by prayer what we mean is quality time communing with God, spending time alone with him deepening our relationship with the God we love. This is where Jesus drew his strength and it is exactly the same place from which we ought to draw our strength.
The work of healing and teaching and exorcising is there to be done, more than ever before. Our task is to step up to the plate and follow the example of our Divine Master.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket