Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius,
Painted by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510),
Painted circa 1500,
Tempera on wood
© National Gallery, London
Unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority
Jesus and his disciples went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.
Reflection on the painting
Mark writes that Jesus taught with authority. Jesus wasn’t just interpreting the laws but was teaching with authority. This was different from the scribes, whose teaching was dependent on what others had said or written before them. Jesus however was teaching with authority and saying new things.
Mark is writing these words, alongside the performance of an exorcism as he wants to set the tone and make the point that Jesus came to heal as well as teach. Jesus, from the very start of his ministry revealed how the gift of Christ’s power is to be revealed: not in dominance but in healing! Casting out devils is part of this healing. The exorcisms are a witness to the final victory of the Kingdom of God over evil and death.
Our painting (and please enlarge it on screen if you can) is by Sandro Botticelli. In the Middle Ages, the role of the exorcist was inseparable from the saint's life, whose primary function was to help heal people and make them grow closer to God. Like Christ, the medieval saints were expected by the people around them to have the ability to perform divine healings. So the depictions of saints performing exorcisms became very popular. Botticelli's painting of the Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius illustrates the life of the 5th-century bishop Zenobius, one of the patron saints of Florence. The first miracle, on the very left of our panel, is the bishop healing two possessed young men. The men, who had beaten their mother and who, after being cursed by her (depicted in the middle scene), began to devour their own flesh, are being exorcised by Saint Zenobius, who is praying before a Crucifix. We can see the two demons leaving their bodies. The scene on the right hand is the young men kneeling in front of the bishop after having been healed by him… with authority…
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Readings related to Mark 1:21-28
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