The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
28 January 2018 At Saint Francis of Assisi in Castle Rock, Colorado
Deuteronomy 18, 15-20 + Psalm 95 + 1 Corinthians 7, 32-35 + Mark 1, 21-28
It is easy to become distracted by the sensational in these verses. Shouting demons and man in convulsions in the middle of the synagogue is all it takes for us to get off track with what is going on here. If that happened in here today, I can guarantee you that this homily would be the last thing you remembered about Mass today! The whole contest between Jesus and evil spirits is just a preview of a theme that will continue throughout Mark’s Gospel. What really matters is what is happening between Jesus and the others who are present. Notice carefully that Mark tells us that the people were spellbound by the authority of Jesus before the conflict with the unclean spirit. That exorcism is not what amazed them. What did amaze them was “a completely new teaching in a spirit of authority.”
We do not have much of that these days. We have a lot of words from public figures, but there is a depressing predictability about what they are going to say. There is not a lot of authority, and the consequence is a lot of skepticism. Many of those doing the talking lack credibility for several reasons: they don’t even believe what they themselves are saying. I always suspect that when someone keeps repeating what they say they are trying to convince themselves that it is the truth. Then the character of the speaker matter. A flawed character does not start out with much credibility. There is an old saying: “How do you know when an addict is lying? Their lips are moving.” Finally, when a speaker does not live according to their own words, there is no chance anyone will believe what they say.
What we hear in today’s Gospel is that the teaching of Jesus was refreshingly different from the official teachers of the day. No Scribe ever expressed an opinion of his own. The Scribes always began by quoting some authority other than themselves. Jesus spoke with his own voice needing no other. His authority came from the fact that he spoke the truth. Some teachers just provide facts. Others provide vision, inspiration, and meaning, and that is the difference that Jesus provides, vision, inspiration, and meaning.
His authority came from his character because he back up his words with his deeds. Mark never says it this way, but his presentation of Jesus suggests that Jesus himself was the sermon. We really don’t need the words. Just watch what he does.
Even though Mark puts the question in the mouth of one possessed, we might consider asking that question ourselves. “What do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Last week the Scriptures reminded us that we have been called by Jesus to come and see. He didn’t say, “Come and listen.” Now it seems we ought to ask why – what does Jesus of Nazareth want of us? Simply being amazed cannot possibly be what he asks. There is more expected of a people chosen by God. Our witness to what we have seen and to what we believe must have credibility that comes from really believing, that comes from an upright character, and that comes from speaking the truth. When we cultivate this kind of credibility, our lives will provide for others a vision of the Kingdom of God, inspiration to make it real, and give our lives and our church some real concrete meaning revealed through our deeds of service and love.