The Naked Man – pt. 16

Fourth Century synagogue in Capernaum

Fourth Century synagogue in Capernaum

Yiftach called out from his now customary spot against an olive tree. “So, you say Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him into a new kingdom, and denounce the oppressors of the existing one. Such as whom? Where does he start?” He laughed cynically as he said, “Was his list as long as mine?”

“Where did he start?” Mark responded. “He started by walking from the beach where they had been mending their nets into the fishermen’s hometown, Kefer Nahum, the village of the prophet. Then on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and began to teach. And those gathered there were amazed at his teaching; for he was teaching them as one with authority, and not as the scribes teach.” Mark’s gaze swept the gathering. “Jesus strides from the margins of Galilean life, the seashore, into the very heart of the Galilean social order, the synagogue on the sabbath: sacred space, sacred time.” Mark turned to face Yiftach. “Jesus begins in the territory of the scribal class – teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath. But in his teaching he did not appeal to Moses, or any of the rabbis the scribes cited: he taught with his own authority.”

“The scribes would be a good place to start.” Yiftach stroked his scraggly beard thoughtfully, and as he spoke his words became increasingly heated. “Do they not lay heavy burdens on us, with their interpretation of Torah? Do their decisions in legal matters privilege the rich or the poor? Who sits on the first bench in the synagogue, and lords it over us in the marketplace?” He looked Mark in the eye. “Yes, the scribes need denouncing! But that is a dangerous game to play. For they can be harsh in judgment, and rarely do they cede their authority to others. If Jesus taught in the realm the scribes claimed, then there would have been trouble.”

“Indeed there was,” replied Mark. “As the crowds were wondering at his teaching, at Jesus’ inherent authority, a cry rang out through the synagogue, in a voice dripping with contempt, but with an undertone of fear. ‘What is it with us and you, Jesus from Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’ Jesus turned to the man from whose lips these words had come, and rebuked the unclean spirit who had cried out, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions before crying out in a loud voice as it came out of him.”

Yiftach’s jaw dropped a little and Mark laughed. “Yes, my friend, your reaction is much like that of those in the synagogue that day. For they were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying again, ‘A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ After that, the news about Jesus went out everywhere throughout Galilee.”

Yiftach’s jaw clamped firmly closed. Then he opened it to speak. “There have always been such ‘miracle-workers.’ Little more than magicians, walking from town to town, earning a living with such acts.” He folded his arms defiantly. “How is your Jesus any different?”

Simeon spoke up. “You speak truly – there have been miracle-workers in the hills of Galilee ever since the Empire forced itself upon us by building their cities, bringing the influence of Greece to our land. But those ‘miracle workers’ glorify themselves: this exorcism – and the others that Jesus performed – glorify G_d. They are the work of G_d’s agent, locked in effective struggle with the powers of evil, wresting power from them by his word of command, preparing those who witnessed them for G_d’s coming reign. The demon sought to exercise dominion over Jesus by naming him: Jesus speaks a word, and the demon flees.”

“And,” Mark interjected, “as the story of Jesus unfolds you will see that this story of the demon in the synagogue simply prepares us for the conflict with the scribes that soon erupted.” “Yes,” continued Simeon, “The cry of the demon could well be the cry of the scribes, ‘Have you come to destroy us?’ For Jesus is threatening the scribes in the very site of their power – the synagogue – with his alternative authority. Make no mistake – when Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of G_d, declaring that the Kingdom of G_d had drawn near, he was serving time on all the ‘powers’ that oppress. Just as the demon attempted to control Jesus by naming him, so the scribes and the Pharisees sought to control this rabbi from backwater Nazareth. Just as the demon confronted Jesus in the synagogue, so the scribes confronted him – because he was a profound threat to their authority, just as the people plainly saw.”

Yiftach looked thoughtful once more. “Yes, they could hardly let him wander freely among the hills of Galilee after that. I’m sure word of what happened set those hills aflame!” “Indeed,” responded Mark. “Following the exorcism, Simon and Andrew took Jesus to their home, together with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever, and they told Jesus. He came to her and raised her up from her sick bed, taking her by the hand – and the fever left her. She got up, and waited on them. And when the sabbath ended, after the sun had set, they began bringing all who were ill and demon-possessed to Jesus. The whole village had gathered at the door of Peter’s house. And Jesus healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; but he was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.”

Seeing more than a few furrowed brows in the lamplight, Mark said, “Which raises other questions that perhaps would be better saved for another evening.” He looked to the heavens, raised his hands and offered a parting blessing…

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One Response to The Naked Man – pt. 16

  1. Pingback: The Naked Man – pt. 26 | Sean Gladding

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