“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority …” I know you understand this feeling for I’m sure you feel astounded each Sunday – albeit perhaps not for the same reason as that synagogue congregation in Capernaum.
Teaching with authority seems to be the issue in this passage from Mark; but just what is the nature of this authority? I suspect many of us have heard really compelling speakers or preachers that hold us rapt with their oration. But does their ability to captivate us qualify as teaching with authority? Or is it a matter of style, of charisma, of charm?
While I have no doubt that Jesus teaches with style, charisma, and charm, I don’t think these are the elements that cause this congregation in Capernaum to be bowled over by Jesus’ authority. We might be inclined to say, “of course he teaches with authority – he is the Son of God, the Word incarnate for crying out loud.” And we would be correct; but I don’t think that is the lesson we are to take away from this reading today. I think the lesson to be heard today lies in the exclamation, “A new teaching – with authority!” I think this “new teaching” is about how Jesus encounters the man with the unclean spirit.
I suspect many of us have encountered that person who makes us feel ill at ease either because they are disruptive like this man in the synagogue or because they are off-putting for some other reason. Whatever the reason, this is the kind of person that makes us recoil or seek to distance ourselves. Yet Jesus is not repelled – he may be taken aback – but he is not repelled. He remains present with this man. But Jesus doesn’t remain present in order to rebuke him, at least not in the way we understand rebuke as to berate or chastise. You see, the Greek root of the word here translated as rebuke also means to show honor to. Within this word there is the possibility of both rebuke and honor. I suspect this is precisely what Jesus is up to – the both and of rebuking and honoring.
Jesus remains present with this man because he recognizes that this man is both a beloved child of God and a tormented spirit. Whereas you and I might be repelled by his outward appearance or behavior, Jesus sees the both and of the beloved and the tormented. He is not repelled, rather compassion draws him toward that part of this man that is a child of God. Jesus’ compassion allows him to differentiate between behavior and personhood. He honors the personhood even as he rebukes the behavior.
Through compassion Jesus is able to honor the child of God and rebuke the tormented spirit; and in doing so, he is able to restore this man to wholeness of mind, body, and spirit.
You, I and the congregation in Capernaum are very familiar with the adage, “Do as I say, not what I do.” In essence this may be what we hear preached more often than not on the sabbath. Yet today we are confronted with “a new teaching – with authority” from a man whose actions reflect his words – a man who practices what he preaches. This integrity is the authority we – and the congregation in Capernaum – recognize. It is not authority based upon one’s office, rather it is authority based upon one’s integrity. And we know integrity in a person when we encounter it because in that person we see that what they say and what they do are one in the same.
You and I each have the seed of Jesus’ integrity within us; and we each have the seed of a tormented person within us. I pray that we all may we have the integrity to acknowledge this and to bring this knowledge to the communion rail with us so that Jesus may rebuke our torment and honor and nourish the child of God within us so that the integrity of Jesus may flourish within and among us.
 Mark 1:22
 Ibid., v. 27