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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 1:21–28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. (NRSV)

It is very early on in Jesus’ ministry. Just yesterday he called the first disciples to follow him. And here Jesus establishes that he’s a very different sort of rabbi.

In this short, action-packed episode (like many of Mark’s tellings of Jesus’ life and ministry), there are so many countercultural cues. Mark tells us that Jesus has a radical teaching style, “not like the scribes,” and then heals a possessed man in the synagogue on the sabbath, leaving them “all amazed.” It’s no wonder that his fame begins to spread by the end of this interaction.

This snapshot of Jesus’ early public life captures one big idea that echoes in every detail: his authority. Unlike highly regarded scribes who knew earlier rabbis’ teachings inside and out, reciting those writings and retelling their various interpretations of scripture to those who would listen, Jesus instead cuts to the chase. He speaks with direct authority on the scriptures, not relying on the thoughts of those who wrote and spoke before. When the possessed man then comes and challenges him by name, he answers not with horror or confusion but rather with a quick rebuke. He doesn’t shy away. Both his teaching and his rebuke have immediate effects: the people see God’s word illuminated, and a man is restored to himself. Jesus, in word and deed, has authority like none of these people had seen before.

In a culture of confusion, in times of misinformation and circular speech, in contrast to roundabout writings and deflective discourse, Jesus is sincere and unequivocal. He stands with unique authority, both then and now.

Bold, powerhouse Creator God, thank you for getting straight to the heart. Jesus, thank you for shedding new light on scriptures and life. Spirit, thank you for continuing to whisper directly to me today. Amen.

Written by Sarah van der Ploeg, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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