Year B 4th Sunday: Mark 1:21-28

1:21 They went as far as Capernaum,
and at once on the Sabbath he went into the synagogue and began to teach.
1:22 And his teaching made a deep impression on them because,
unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
1:23 And at once in their synagogue there was a man with an unclean spirit,
and he shouted,
1:24 '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.'
1:25 But Jesus rebuked it saying, 'Be quiet! Come out of him!'
1:26 And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions
and with a loud cry went out of him.
1:27 The people were so astonished that they started asking one another
what it all meant, saying,
'Here is a teaching that is new, and with authority behind it:
he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.'
1:28 And his reputation at once spread everywhere,
through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.
1:29 And at once on leaving the synagogue...


After his baptism and his sojourn in the desert and after John’s delivering Jesus took over John’s preaching. Before he went out to preach he chose disciples to accompany him. But now he starts with his Messianic work: preaching and healing.


First it might be good to say a word about the role of spirits in the world of the Bible. In Biblical times all visible phenomena were reduced to the influence and the work of invisible powers: spirits. In that perspective we understand how important it is that at the beginning of his Gospel Mark tells us that the spirit from ‘the heavens’ descended upon Jesus. From that moment all that he will say and all that he will do has to be considered as inspired by that Holy Spirit.

Bad behaviour, illnesses and disasters were explained as the result of the work of evil spirits or even The Evil Spirit (cfr. 3:22).

Well then, in the synagogue today there is a man ‘in an evil spirit’, as the Greek text says. That is the same way of thinking as we heard from John the Baptist about the good spirit, ‘After me will come the one who will baptize you in holy spirit’ (1:8). That means that ‘you’ will be submerged, wrapped in Holy Spirit. Now the man in the synagogue was wrapped, submerged in the evil spirit in spite of the fact that the spirit himself is hidden inside that man.

And it really was an evil spirit. He knew who Jesus was, ‘the Holy One of God’,  and nevertheless he doesn’t want to have to do with the man of God; that means he doesn’t want to have to do with love, charity, grace, forgiving. So, rightly an evil spirit.

And then the big surprise: the spirit which descended upon Jesus some lines ago (1:10) turns out to be stronger than the evil spirit. With one word (in the Greek language) Jesus commands him, ‘Shut up!’ And the evil spirit obeys! And Jesus commands, ‘Go out of him!’ And again the evil spirit obeys. The good spirit of Jesus is more powerful, does have more authority than the evil spirit. If that isn’t Good Message!


At the beginning of this story we hear that Jesus was preaching with authority. But we don’t hear any preaching... unless we consider the work he does as his preaching.


I cannot resist the temptation to show how beautifully Mark frames this story. The story is clearly framed. In the beginning we hear that Jesus enters the synagogue (1:21); at the end Mark tells us that Jesus leaves the synagogue (1:29). Then: the remarkable word ‘straightway’ (‘at once’: vss.21.23: twice and vss. 28.29: twice again). Then: ‘teaching with authority’ (vss.22 and 27). Finally ‘amazed’ (vs.22) and ‘astonished’ (vs.27). And what turns out to be in the centre of these framings...?

Picture Meditation

The picture is a detail of Peter Clare’s Mark painting. Below left we see Jesus with his disciples heading for the synagogue. In the synagogue he is confronted with an (enormous!) evil spirit. At the top we see the Pharisees who didn’t have his authority.

Jesus’ spirit, the spirit of love, grace, forgiveness: stronger than the evil spirit. Do I believe that? Looking around me in the world, and perhaps in my own history of life: Jesus’ spirit stronger? Did I ever had the fortune to experience that? And if I believe that the good spirit is (finally!) stronger than the evil spirit, how do I demonstrate that in my daily life.
by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ