They came to Capernaum and on the sabbath Jesus 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.
According to St. Mark, Jesus called the first apostles in east Galilee and gave his first sermons on the Sabbath day in Capernaum. In this first public preaching, Jesus not only gave a sermon but also worked a miracle.
Historically, every town in Palestine had a synagogue. It was a sacred building where pious Jews gathered on the Sabbath day to recite prayers and to listen to scriptures read and explained by teacher or rabbi. In today’s Gospel reading, the one who reads and explains the scriptures is Jesus. It was customary of the time for the locals to invite any stranger present to speak to the congregation. Paul and Barnabas went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.’ So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak (Acts 13:14-16). Probably, it was against this customary background that Jesus, who was a stranger to the locals of Capernaum, was invited to speak on the Sabbath day in the synagogue.
The congregation was astonished at his teaching because he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Jesus does not quote others to prove his words because he is “The Word” as what St. John the Evangelist told us. Jesus, himself, is the authority. People at the synagogue did not grasp the deeper sense of Jesus’ teaching that he is the Messiah and he Son of God, though it was the general expectation of the Jews at that time that the Messiah would put an end to the reign of Satan and evil of the world.
However the unclean spirit did recognize Jesus and realized that their days were numbered and that they soon would be conquered because by his incarnation, death and resurrection, Jesus gives all men and women the means of becoming sons and daughters of God and are freed from the snares of Satan and sin.
It is interesting that Jesus forbids the unclean spirit to say any more, but ordered it to leave the man whom it had possessed. One way to understand this is that Jesus wants us to experience him personally instead of knowing him through a third person. Today, many of us have some knowledge about the teaching of the Church but the question remains how many of us have experienced Jesus in our heart?
In exorcizing the unclean spirit, Jesus did not resorted to elaborated rituals usually performed by rabbis but simply commanded it to “come out of him!” the whole congregation was amazed of Jesus’ new teaching and his super-natural authority exercised over the clean spirit. To them, Jesus was new in every way. This gave them some thoughts to ponder and gradually they began to understand it later.
Like the Samaritan woman in chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, the Jews in Capernaum told Jews in their neighbouring towns in other parts of Galilee about what happened at the synagogue on that Sabbath day. It paved the way of Jesus’ ministry in the region.
In today’s prayer, can we realize who Jesus is for us? Have I been amazed by his teaching and miracles worked in our lives? How would us to share such experiences of his love with others? Pray for the grace to give my heart to God who has already given his heart to me. Amen.