January 31, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Deuteronomy 18, 15-20 + Psalm 295 + 1 Corinthians 7, 32-35 + Mark 1, 21-28
At the time of Jesus and when this Gospel was prepared by Mark, if there was anything that happened, any tragedy, sickness, or a natural phenomenon that the people did not understand, they attributed it to unclean spirits. They simply viewed miracles differently that we do. In our scientific and technological age, we would look at this scene and ask, “How did that happen? How did he do that?” They asked a different question, “Who is responsible?” Their answer was always the same, God. Their amazement is not with the miracle. It was this new authority. Notice that they don’t talk exorcism. They are amazed at a new kind of authority.
There is something new here for them and for us as well. Jesus speaks with an authority different from the scribes. Their authority came from the power to enforce. They never spoke on their own. They always began by quoting the law or some greater authority.
For Jesus, authority comes from within himself. It comes from his love, from respect, and from compassion. That inspires. What impresses those people in the synagogue is that the action matches the word. This is what establishes his authority. Jesus is not just satisfied with words. He does not go on and on with lectures. He acts. He does something. He sees a need, and out of love, he acts. It is inspiring. That pattern of Word and Act carries over into the church with our Sacraments. Words are spoken, and something happens.
For most of us, just like those folks in the synagogue, it is exciting to find someone who does what they say, who follows up their talk with action. This is the look of real authority. Someone who does what they say gets our respect and admiration. The admiration is inspiring, and it ought to make want to be like that. The teaching of Jesus would simply be abstract, just a lot of nice ideas and theories if it were not for the action that always follows. He shows what can happen when compassion inspires a response and we know that from the way he treats people that no one else at his time would even look or let alone touch.
As a church, as members of Christ’s body, we can’t just talk about mercy. We have to show it. We can’t just talk about forgiveness, we have to give it. We can’t just talk about love, we have to share it. We can’t just talk about, study, or wish for the Kingdom of God. We have to live in it now. What is the point of saying a lot of prayers if we fail to live in the presence of God. There are certain men and women who possess an unaccountable spiritual superiority. This gives them enormous moral authority. They have this authority, not because of an office they hold but because of the kind of person they are. This is the greatest and highest authority of all. It has roots in the authority of God. Jesus possessed this kind of authority. It was unequaled at its time. But since then, it ought not to be so rare. Every disciple of Jesus Christ by reason of baptism and communion as the people of God share in Christ’s authority. It ought to make us trustworthy and give us integrity and a credibility that inspires others to seek the truth and always act and speak with compassion. When that happens, people will not wonder how we did something, but they will know that God is present and active in our lives.