Mark 1:21-28 – Conflict on the Sabbath


Mark 1:21-28


Jesus begins his teaching and healing ministry with a demonstration of his authority.


Controversies over the observance of the Sabbath play a central role in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, and the first mention of the Sabbath occurs after Jesus arrives with his newly called disciples (Mark 1:16-20) in the town of Capernaum, a fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The story at first seems benign; Jesus goes into a synagogue and teaches, an action that we might expect from someone who calls disciples. Mark wants his readers to know, however, that Jesus is no ordinary teacher. Jesus teaches with “authority,” (1:22) something that the usual teachers, the scribes, lack. Jesus’ authority makes him a lightning rod for conflict.

On that first Sabbath in Capernaum, the conflict came in the form of the demonic. One of the ironies of Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus’ true identity is often confessed by the mouth of demons. While the crowd is impressed with Jesus’ authority, the unclean spirit knows his true identity, calling out that he is “the Holy One of God” (1:25). The unclean spirit also knows Jesus’ mission, a mission that Jesus begins to put into action when he rebukes the spirit and casts it out of the man. The irony continues in the crowd’s failure to understand what has just happened. Unlike the unclean spirit, they can’t quite understand what is going on. Instead of proclaiming Jesus as the Holy One of God, after watching Jesus exorcize the demon, they ask each other “What is this?” They cannot see the truth.