Tag Archives: Capernaum

A New Authority

Mark 1.21–28

…the unclean spirit recognises Jesus, yet the crowd’s reaction focusses instead on Jesus’ authority, not his demonically disclosed identity! Through this ‘secret’ readers are brought in on an insight that characters in the story fail to notice. The upshot is that neither the miraculous exorcism, nor even authoritative teaching, is sufficient for faith. This also underlines the fragility of the gospel promise that Jesus embodies. – David Schnasa Jacobsen, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries), (Kindle Locations 973-975), Fortress Press, Kindle Edition.


Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee, was where Jesus had made his home. It is in the synagogue of Capernaum that today’s story is set. My wife and I were standing there in the ruined synagogue almost five years ago, on a journey to Israel. From memory, the current structure dates from somewhere around the third century. However, you can see at its base a darker stone which dates from the first century. Jesus would have seen this same stone.

This is the very site at which

the people who heard [Jesus] were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority.

The people in Capernaum were amazed. Gobsmacked. At the way Jesus taught, and at his authority over the demonic spirit.

But amazement was not enough. It wasn’t what Jesus was looking for.

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The shadow of the cross (Year B, 1 February 2015)

Mark 1.21–28

In April two years ago I stood here:

Capernaum synagogue

It’s what is left of the synagogue in the ancient fishing village of Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee. Not the synagogue that Jesus was in, this one dates from the fourth or fifth century; but it is probably on the selfsame site as the synagogue Jesus knew, built on top of the synagogue in our Gospel story today.

I want you to imagine something with me today. I want you to imagine that you are back in century one, somewhere around 65–70AD, hearing Mark’s story of Jesus for the very first time. You don’t know what comes next, you don’t know how it ends.

What have you heard so far?

You’ve heard the title:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So you already know this book is about Jesus, the Christ long-awaited by the Jewish people, who is also the Son of God.

And you’ve heard the story of his baptism, when Jesus heard God speak to him:

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

And you know that he walked along the Galilee lakeside and plucked fishers from their work to be his disciples: Andrew and Simon Peter, James and John. And you’ve already heard his message:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

And by the way, as you listen to the Gospel According to Mark being read, you’ve already heard the words ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’. You’ve heard them four times in the space of 28 verses. You’re picking up that things happen when Jesus is around. There’s a sense of expectation. Something’s in the air.

So when Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, perhaps there’s a sense of anticipation. And the people aren’t disappointed.

They realise that here among them, from Nazareth, less than 50 kilometres away, is someone who speaks the things of God with authority. And who confronts the forces of evil with authority.

This was new to them. It made sense of what Jesus was saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.’ So

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.

A good result for a preacher, you might say. Most of us would be very gratified with a response like that.

But is that what Jesus was looking for?

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