Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mark 1:21-28

This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently January of 2021.
Summary:  The Greek highlights Mark's excellent dramatic skills.  He uses tight language and subtle details to present the conflict of Jesus against the mysterious and powerful forces of evil.  Evil is quite powerful here:  It has invaded the synagogue; it knows more than the crowd; it is vulgar and disobedient to Jesus; its number is unknown.  Yet Jesus will vanquish it and affirm the claim of the crowd, that he is one with authority.  As Staupitz declared to Luther in the movie:  "You are too hard on yourself; the devil has been around for thousands of years.  Cling to Christ and his mercy."

Alternate thought:  I am coming back to this passage nearly a decade after I first did a Greek post on this passage.  What stood out to me this time was:  What does it mean that Jesus interprets Scripture with authority?  My sense is that we are moving away from an academic sense of authoritative interpretation of Scripture -- but what replaces it?  In our 2018 American context, do we ascribe authority to someone when they confirm our previous held biases?  How is authority related to authenticity?  Must authority be proved?  Perhaps the test of Scripture interpretation should be this passage:  If it does not drive demons out of the congregation, it has no authority.

How Mark employs Greek to add drama to the story:
1:21 and 1:22 All of the indicative verbs in this sentence have verbs in the present or imperfect, suggesting a lot of movement and continuous action.  The story continues the whirlwind pace of Mark chapter 1. 

1:23 Mark puts the word "unclean" (ακαθαρτος) last in this clause, so it reads "there was in the synagogue a man in spirit unclean." A bit of suspense because as a reader it would not be entirely surprising to find a spirit in a synagogue.  It is worth noting that the unclean spirit is not found outside the house of God, but inside the house of God! 

Also, a side note, 1:23/26  the word for unclean is "ακαθαρτος" as in the man needs a cathartic experience...

1:23 The first aorist verb is ανεκραξεν ("cry out") suggesting an abrupt change in the action after all the other present/imperfect verbs.

1.24 The phrase here in Greek that the unclean spirit uses is "What to you and to us?" This is essentially what Jesus to his mother at Cana: "What to me and to you." In other words, this is not a very kind way to talk!   A sort of "What the hell do you want?"

1.24  The spirit switches back and forth between the singular and the plural, presenting an uncomfortable ambiguity:  How many are there?  "Have you come to destroy us (ημας)?  I know (οιδα) who you are"

1.26   Interesting that even though the unclean Spirit obeys Jesus by leaving the man, it still gives off a μεγαλη (large) scream. Jesus had commanded the spirit to be silenced; this shows its disobedience!

All of this drama and even highlighting of evil's power is designed to affirm the original claim of the people, namely, that Jesus is one with εξουσια (1:22), that is power!  

The authority of Jesus, it seems, resides in a few areas.  Perhaps asking ourselves if we still believe as stewards of the word that we have this authority!

  • Teaching.  The crowd believes Jesus teaching has authority (1:22).  
  • Casting out demons (1:28); the disciples will be given this power (3:15; 6:7)
  • Forgive sins (2:10)
  • One could also add up-end the temple sacrifice system (11:28-33)!

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