They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.27They 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.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Translation: And they go into Capernaum, and immediately the sabbaths, he went into the synagogue (and) was teaching. And they were shocked at his teaching, for he was teaching them as having power and not as the scribes. And immediately, there was in their synagogue a man in an uncleansed spirit and he cried out, saying, "What are you to us, Jesus of Nazareth? You came to destroy us. I know you, who you are, the holy one of God." And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Shut up and come out of him!" And the uncleansed spirit tore him apart, and calling out a loud voice, came out of him. And all were astounded so that they discussed to themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching, with power, and he commands the uncleansed spirits and they obey him." And immediately, the report of him went everywhere into the whole surrounding area of Galilee.
We are only at verse 21, still very early in Mark's gospel. After leaving the wilderness, the first thing Jesus did was begin to assemble a community. The next thing he did was to engage the religious power.
Teaching with authority: The word is exousian--he teaches with power! Jesus has it, and the scribes do not. Right off the bat, the scribes--the "lawyers" of religious power--are put down, their authority suspect. (In 3:22, Mark will associate the scribes directly with Temple power in Jerusalem.)
We are not told the actual content of Jesus' teaching, but whatever it was, it "shocked" and "amazed" those who were present. (The "they" is indefinite. It probably means the people present at the synagogue that day.)
The first demon in Mark's gospel pops up in church: Mark employs the "sandwich technique" at several points in his gospel. He tells a story within a story, you might say, and each story is a commentary on the other.
That's what he does here. The episode begins and ends on the question of authority and teaching, and, inbetween, we meet the "uncleansed spirit."
Mark's gospel is awash in the demonic. After Jesus' confrontation with Satan himself (1:13), the demonic first makes a geographically-specific appearance within the precincts of religion. Note that the "uncleansed spirit" pops up in "their synagogue."
In People of the Lie, Scott Peck said that the people of the world recoil from evil whenever they see it directly. This is why evil likes to disguise itself, and what better way for evil to disguise itself than to hide under the good? It is not at all surprising that Jesus would encounter a demon in church. It's a perfect place for evil to hide.
To sum up thus far, Jesus has purposefully entered the place of scribal authority and directly confronted it. In response, the demonic rallies to defend itself. Organized religion is presented as hosting a demonic power, one which, somewhat surprisingly, recognizes Jesus immediately.
"You came to destroy us": The man "in an unclean spirit" cried out: Ti hamin kai soi, Iesou Nazarene!--literally: "What are you to us?" or "Why do you meddle with us?" You are merely "of Nazareth." You are a nobody. The "uncleansed spirit's" tone is dismissive.
Not surprisingly, the demon is lying. His opening remark quickly turns out to be false bravado because the next statement reveals fear on the part of the demonic. "You came to destroy us," they say. Correctamundo.
In a last ditch effort to re-establish control, the "man in an uncleansed spirit" says, "I know you, who you are, the holy one of God." Knowing and identifying is a way of trying to exert mastery. It is why Moses asked for God's name. If a person knew the name of another entity, they felt they could exert some influence through the use of the name--(which is why the Lord God gave Moses a name that we're still trying to figure out).
With one exception, no human being in Mark's gospel ever gets Jesus' identity quite right. The reason is because Mark wants the reader to know the whole story first. You can't know who Jesus is unless you see him as the Crucified, which is why the only human statement of Jesus' identity that is allowed to stand uncontested in Mark's gospel is the statement of the Roman centurion at his death: "Truly, this man was God's son (15:39)."
Nevertheless, though human beings don't know who Jesus is, the demonic realm certainly does. Yes, he is the "holy one of God" and, yes, he has come to destroy them. Whatever else one might say about the demonic, it correctly discerns a true threat.
Jesus rebuked the man and said, "Shut up and come out of him!" ("Rebuked" is a common word in Jewish exorcisms. See Zech 3:2, Ps 80:16. "Shut up" is phimoo, which is also the word Jesus uses to calm the storm in 4:39.)
The reaction is violent. The "uncleansed spirit" tore the man apart. The word is sparaxen, which means "tore apart, mangled, convulsed, rent in pieces." The violence at the heart of religious power is exposed. But Jesus' power is stronger, which Mark makes clear by saying that the spirit "came out out of him."
Mark then continues on the subject of authority and teaching. "All were astounded" and they discuss the question among themselves. They don't know exactly what has happened--"What is this?"--but they now call it a "new teaching," one with, again, authority and power. "He commands the uncleansed spirits and they obey him."
"And immediately, the report of him went everywhere into the whole surrounding area of Galilee." If you were going to circulate news in the region of Galilee in the first century, Capernaum would likely have been the best place from which to do it. The town was one of the largest in the region and had the biggest harbor. Do something in Capernaum and news could travel fast.
Jesus is beginning to establish his movement, and making some waves. He is striking quickly.
Image: Healing of the demoniac in the synagogue, James Tissot