After yesterday’s dramatic encounter in the synagogue, the narrative picks up speed. We’ll see this more than once in Mark’s gospel – the action comes thick and fast, so ‘as soon as they left the synagogue…’ (v29) they’re onto the next encounter: in this case, a pastoral visit with Jesus’ new team, helping (and healing) Simon’s mother-in-law.
All through this section, we see demonstrations of Jesus’ authority: first in his teaching (v20), then in his authority over demonic spirits (v25), now over illness (v31) – and, at this point, it’s open season, such that everyone in the vicinity with ailments, either physical or spiritual, come to find him and seek healing (v32). Notice that it’s after sunset – traditionally nothing happens after sundown, but we need to remember that illness or spiritual oppression was understood in that culture to be a sign of being out of favour with God. Many of these people would have been ostracised from the community, perhaps even seen as ‘cursed’, so they might have been fearful of being out in public during the day.
So they come to Jesus at night, and Jesus heals ‘many who had various diseases’ (v34). Note the expansion of his ministry as well as the breadth of his authority being demonstrated. Once again, though, he is not ready to be seen as the new king, the Holy One of God, so he commands the spirits to be silent.
So far, so good – however, at this point the narrative takes a twist. Far from encouraging further crowds Jesus takes himself off to pray (v35). When challenged by his friends, he also reminds them of the true nature of his mission: he is not just here to work wonders, important though those are in establishing and demonstrating his identity and authority; he is here to declare the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God. ‘The time has come!’
And so he moves on ‘throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.’ (v39) Jesus can’t be caged. The people of Capernaum desperately wanted an in situ miracle worker – and who wouldn’t? – and Jesus is more than happy to bless them for a season, to begin sharing his good news there. But his vision is bigger, his mission is wider and greater.
This little episode in Capernaum is a pivotal moment in his ministry, setting Jesus’ course. It reminds us that Jesus is not an insular saviour, who only cares about a certain group of people. His love and message reaches out to all. He takes the good news out to the world, to as many as will receive it. Wherever you are reading this today, we are the beneficiaries of this Saviour, who knows who he is and why he has come: drawing the whole world into his good news. That is why he came.