To our eyes, Capernaum was more of a village than a city. Close to the beach where Jesus had been walking, there was a synagogue. The synagogue was a place of teaching (sacrifice was reserved for the Temple in Jerusalem). The indications are that Jesus was, for the time being, resident in Capernaum, so he would be known and recognised at the synagogue.
If we walked into the synagogue we might see some practices which remind us of Church, but there are some significant differences.
‘One thing the synagogue did not have was a permanent preacher or teacher. When the people met at the synagogue service it was open to the ruler [of the synagogue] to call on any competent person to give the address and exposition.’ (i)
The Teachers of the Law followed the strict practice of careful interpretation of the Law of Moses and the Torah, which contained many clarifications intended to apply the Law to everyday life. Their teaching would draw entirely on the words of the Torah, and the interpretations and comments of other teachers, scribes and rabbi’s.
Yet here is a young rabbi, speaking from Scripture and applying it, interpreting it, teaching from it, without reference to other teachers, but on his own authority. It is this break from tradition which sets Jesus apart from other teachers of his day. It is this assumption of authority which attracted attention to the young man called Jesus. It is the power and ownership of his own words which amazed the men of Capernaum.
22 The congregation was surprised at his sermon because he spoke as an authority and didn’t try to prove his points by quoting others—quite unlike what they were used to hearing! (Mark 1:22, The Living Bible)
i. Wm Barclay. New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, loc 944 (Mark 1:21-22)