How “astonished”, “amazed” and “spellbound” are we?

by May Tam
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Mark 1:21-28

“Astonished”, “amazed” and “spellbound” are the reactions of the people in this Sunday's Gospel reading, recounted by Mark about a single day's ministry of Jesus on a Sabbath at Capernaum. We do not know what Jesus teaches in the synagogue, but we know how He teaches - “teaching with authority” (Mk 1:22, 27). Jesus may have taught differently from the scribes in matter, but it is His manner that causes the people to be awestruck. While the scribes, teachers and experts of the law speak on the authority of the law; Jesus, a carpenter's son, speaks on His own authority (rf Mk 12:28; Mt 22:35; Lk:5:17-21). Jesus' oft-repeated words are: “I say to you” (rf Mt 5;18, 20, 22, 26, 28, 34; Lk 6:27, 19:26).

Mark's account of Jesus' first teaching and first powerful act are to be seen as intimately related. Not only does Jesus speak with authority, He also acts with power. His power in driving out the unclean spirit is not only a proof of His place in the hierarchy of powers, but also a manifestation that the dominion of God is now taking over that of the devil's.

Though the crowds are astonished, amazed and spellbound, how many of them actually turn to Jesus and believe Him? In fact, some of them later detract His works by claiming that His authority comes from the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons (rf Mt 12:24, Lk 11:15). Some even seek to destroy Him (rf Mt 12:14, Jn 11:45-57). If Jesus’ power fails to convince people of His divinity, but instead brings about hostile reactions, how much more difficult for Jesus to convince others when He reveals Himself in a less appealing way? Will you be even more astonished when He teaches that “The Son of Man had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be put to death, and rise three days later” (Mk 8:31)? Will you be, nevertheless, amazed at this wonder-worker when He is led through the streets of Jerusalem on His way to Calvary? Will you be still spellbound when He hangs on the cross, abandoned by most of His followers who were astounded by His first sign of power?

How truly are we astonished by miracles? How honestly are we amazed at the created order (both cosmic and microscopic)? How sincerely are we spellbound by God's love and mercy? Some may believe in miracles but only for a while, others may try to seek various explanations for them. Some may marvel at the laws of nature and its perfect design but others may attribute it to randomness and chance. Some are grateful for God's gift of salvation while others simply dismiss it with indifference.

Perhaps those who want to follow Jesus, the “amazing one”, cannot be just astonished, amazed and spellbound by His teachings and works, but must also go the way He goes, that is, “deny himself, take up his cross and follow in [Jesus'] steps” (Mk 8:34).