patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Monday, February 18, 2013

shut up

Okay, so Mark, whose account I’ve been neglecting a bit in my current journey through Jesus’ life, explains what Jesus began in Capernaum. (I like how, so often, the question I have reading one gospel is answered in one of the others.) He started teaching.

At Capernaum, Mark says, “Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach” (Mark 1:21 NIV). As always when he went into the synagogue, he amazed everyone present. Even as a boy of twelve “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46), he amazed “Everyone who heard him”—not least the teachers themselves—with “his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Now that he’s a man, what amazes them—Mark says the word twice, in this brief account, for emphasis—is not merely his knowledge about matters spiritual but his “authority.”

Mark writes, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22). Teachers of the law—that is, the experts in what he was teaching—did not teach with authority. Which makes me wonder why not.

Were they, like me, too speculative? Trying to tease out layered meanings where the answers were simple and clear?
The account of Jesus confronting a man “possessed by impure demon” that immediately follows Mark’s authority claim demonstrates—a little comically, to my mind—the difference between the rabbis’ teaching and Jesus’.

The man with the demon (or, arguably, the demon itself; it’s always hard to sort the spirit from the person in these demon possession stories) cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“‘Be quiet!’” said Jesus sternly.” (That’s the part I find funny.) “‘Come out of him!’”

And with that, “The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek,” and “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him’” (Mark 1:24-27).

Jesus’ amazing authority, like the authority of the Centurion with the sick servant whom we encounter much later, amounts to his ability to get others to do what he wants them to do. He tells demons to shut up and come out, and they do. He commands others to drop everything and follow him, and they do. That’s the difference.
Something in his voice and person commanded obedience. Commands it still.


  1. I like to envision Jesus with the teachers of the law. In my minds eye, I see the typical Jew groveling around these authority figures - awed by their philosophical attempts to explain the meaning of Old Testament prophecies - marveling at them. Then Jesus, who doesn’t regard any man as more important than another, steps forward. His head is held high. He looks them in the eye and shows them the contradictions in their arguments by asking pointed questions. They are immediately caught off guard by his boldness in confronting them. His voice is quiet but firm and he clearly supports his positions with references to other scripture. The wisest among them is amazed and enlightened. Most of them are hot with embarrassment and feel humiliated.

  2. They all seem to be amazed, in these two stories at least. Although it's true our word amazed might not quite get at it. In the story of Jesus' as a boy at the temple, we're told his parents were "amazed" or "astonished," depending on the translation, and similar language is used for an apparent Greek synonym for the reaction of everyone who heard him--not least of all the rabbis themselves. I'll warrant, though, that the reaction on his parents was a bit different from that of unrelated onlookers and then again different from that of rabbis who'd just been shown up by a kid. As you say.