“In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, ‘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!’” (Mark 1:23-24)
“All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27)
These two verses from the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark show two different reactions to Jesus and his first healing miracle. He has gone to the synagogue of Capernaum after calling his first disciples. John the Baptist has been imprisoned, and with that imprisonment the way is clear for Jesus to step up to the plate as it were. A man possessed of an evil spirit accosts Jesus in the synagogue and identifies him as the Holy One of God.
When Jesus casts the spirit out of the afflicted man, the people are puzzled by the experience. People of this culture did not aspire to be anything greater than what was theirs by birth. In their minds, Jesus should have been content with the life of a carpenter. So they are confused, amazed, and befuddled by Jesus.
St. Mark juxtaposes the reaction of the evil spirit to Jesus with the reaction of the people. While his contemporaries and neighbors are unable to grasp who Jesus is, the evil spirit not only understands but proclaims it at full voice. This pattern will continue to emerge in the Gospel as Jesus’ fame spreads. His own people will find it increasingly difficult to accept who Jesus is while the Roman centurion, the evil spirits and eventually Pontius Pilate himself will recognize Jesus as the King of the Jews.
Scripture scholars refer to this issue of identity as the “Messianic Secret.” Jesus is forever telling people not to spread the news, not to tell others what he has done. Why? Jesus does not want people to accept him for his power. Jesus is not looking for political power. Jesus is looking for faith. Time and time again, he reminds people that they have been saved by their faith. While he could have taken credit for the healings and for the natural miracles, he consistently asks people to put their faith in God.
Christians today are faced with the same issue. Do we recognize who Jesus is? Have we placed our faith in him? Evidence to the contrary is all around us. Rather than recognize our dependence upon Jesus, we tend to place our trust in our own abilities and to pursue our own goals. Today the Gospel asks us to answer the question: “Do we know who Jesus is? Are we ready to accept him as God incarnate? Can we follow him? Or will we continue to build our own kingdom?”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator