1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Each of the evangelists chooses a different scene to begin their account of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew portrays Jesus ascending the mountain and sitting down to proclaim to his disciples and the crowds his great Sermon on the Mount (Mt 4:23-5:1). Luke describes the dramatic scene in Jesus’ hometown synagogue of Nazareth where he reads from the text of Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…" as the keynote of his mission and holds his fellow Nazarites spellbound (Luke 4:16-30). John begins with the miracle of Cana where Jesus changes the water into wine, the first of his great "signs" (John 2:1-12).
For Mark’s Gospel-the Gospel that will dominate the Sunday readings throughout this liturgical year-Jesus begins his ministry in the synagogue of Capernaum, the gospel account that occurs this Sunday. It is a dramatic scene, told in quick strokes as is Mark’s usual style. Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and begins to teach. Mark underscores the power of Jesus’ teaching ("he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes")-an emphasis that will also appear at the end of this account: "All were amazed and asked one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority…"
What is striking is that Jesus does not teach with words at all, but by what he does. As he enters the synagogue, he encounters a man who is tormented by an "unclean spirit," thrown into convulsions and suffering terribly. The power of evil aggressively challenges Jesus, "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." Curiously in Mark’s Gospel more than once the demons know what they are up against, while the human witnesses are baffled at Jesus. In this instance, the demon tells what, in fact, is the truth: Jesus has come to destroy the evil that is a scourge for human beings. Jesus’ silences the demon and drives him out of the man. And the story ends with the crowd amazed and acclaiming Jesus-"His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee."
In this opening scene of the public ministry of Jesus, Mark’s Gospel presents its fundamental understanding of the mission of Jesus (see Mark 1:9-13). The Spirit of God descends upon Jesus at his baptism, triggering God the Father’s tribute: "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased." And "immediately," Mark notes, the Spirit drives Jesus out into the desert to confront the power of evil and to overcome it. The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is full of the Spirit of God, a Spirit that brings life, healing, reconciliation, restoration of justice. The God of the Scriptures is the God of life and Jesus, God’s beloved Son and the Messiah, comes to eradicate all forms of death and to bring life to our world.
At a time when all the world is distraught with the threat of terror and where some seem to trample on the rights of other and ignore the beauty and sacredness of human life, Mark’s Gospel reminds us that the God revealed by Jesus is a God who brings life not death. And we cannot fail to recall that the same Spirit that animates Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is the same Spirit that has been given to us as Christians through our baptism. More than ever we need to realize the gift of the Spirit we bear and strive to live our everyday lives as an expression of that life-giving Spirit. We are Christians and we bear not only the name of Jesus but are entrusted with his same mission.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.