Monday, January 9, 2017

"A NEW TEACHING, WITH AUTHORITY."


Homily for January 10th, 2017: Mark 1:21-28.

          In today’s gospel Mark describes a typical day in Jesus’ public ministry. It is a Sabbath, so Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum. The service consisted of readings from Scripture, psalms, prayers, and teaching. For this any Jewish man with sufficient scriptural knowledge was qualified. Ordination as a rabbi was not necessary. Jesus’ teaching was different, however, from that of the other teachers of his day. This is clear from his hearers’ reaction. “The people were astonished at his teaching,” Mark tells us. “For he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

          What was this “authority” that Jesus had, and other teachers did not? We see it most clearly in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, which begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There we hear Jesus citing a number of the Ten Commandments which God had given to Moses. He introduces each with the phrase: “You have heard the Commandment.” Then, each time, Jesus says: “But I say unto you.” Jesus is not interpreting God’s law, like all the other teachers. He is speaking as himself the law giver. It was this authoritative way of speaking which astonished Jesus’ hearers.  

          Jesus’ deeds manifest the same authority, in particular his healings. People in that day attributed illness to possession by “demons”, invisible but powerful spiritual forces. In today’s gospel reading, as often in the gospels, Jesus’ very presence causes demons to cry out in protest. The presence of the One who is without sin alarms these evil spirits. “What have you to do with us?” a demon cries out in today’s gospel. “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” Jesus uses his spiritual power as Son of the all-holy God to rebuke and banish the demon. “Quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus says. And Mark tells us: “The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.”   

          Less dramatically, but no less authoritatively, Jesus continues to cast out demons today: addiction to alcohol, drugs, or sex; the relentless quest for more, and more, and more – whether it is money, honor, or power over others – a quest which never succeeds but produces only frustration and disappointment. If you see any of those things in your life, then come to Jesus. He still has power to heal. As the old evangelical hymn has it: “Cast your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in his wonderful grace. / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of his glory and grace.