Fourth Sunday of the Year
29 January 2012
My dear friends,
We are told in today’s Gospel reading that as soon as the Sabbath came Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach there. InGalileeat that time every town and village had a synagogue. It was a place for prayer, worship and instruction in the Jewish faith. The pattern of Jesus at that time appears to have been that he went from one synagogue to another throughout Galilee teaching and preaching the kingdom of God. We are told he made a deep impression on his listeners and, unlike the scribes, taught them with authority.
When Mark told the story of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, he said Jesus was invested with the power of the Spirit, and so acts with authority. The power that moves Jesus has its source in God; the authority that Jesus displays, both in his actions and words, is the authority of God himself. It is not then difficult to accept that when Jesus began teaching the people were deeply impressed; they can sense for themselves the difference between how Jesus teaches and how other religious leaders teach. It is not a matter of decorative words. The teaching of Jesus makes an impression, because people can see the change for good it brings about in the broken, the crippled and the dispossessed.
In Mark’s Gospel, this event described in today’s reading is the first work of the ministry of Jesus and sets the scene for what is to come, the confrontation between two powers, – the power of good and the power of evil, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. While teaching in the synagogue, Jesus is interrupted by the shouts of a man possessed. This man has been taken over by a dark power and, in a sense, he is not in control of his own life. At the word of Jesus, the man was freed from this control and the people were astonished at this new power among them – a teaching with authority behind it.
When Jesus taught, he showed not only his wisdom but his power. His authority originated in his relationship with God and his power was that of God’s Son. He showed his unique authority in that his actions were his principal teachings. He used his power to free people from the evil forces that dominated their lives. He came to overcome the power of evil and to enable the human race to do the same. He came to heal. His ministry is mirrored in the care that parents try to show their children. It is an expression of love, a love that is given for the good of others.
We are told that his reputation spread rapidly and everywhere. Particularly at the start of his ministry, Jesus seems to have met with acceptance and approval. So did many of the prophetic figures which the human race has produced over the centuries – Stephen, in Apostolic times who was later stoned to death, Thomas Becket who was murdered in his Cathedral, Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake at the age of 19, and Martin Luther King whose voice was eventually silenced by an assassin’s bullet.
We are a fickle lot who make up the human race. We applaud, but things move on, and the applause dies. If prophetic teaching makes us uncomfortable and we need shelter from it, we can always find defence mechanisms to shield us from the insight offered to us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the Nazi leaders in World War 11 Germany uncomfortable and was hanged in a concentration camp. Mohandes Gandhi, who identified with the poor of our world and tried to achieve their rights for the untouchables in his nativeIndia, was eventually silenced. The human race has a habit of rejecting and often of killing the very prophets God sends to help them.
Jesus showed an awareness that the road from approval to rejection and even violence is a short one, and that he will not be excused from facing the rejection that most prophets before him had to face. The history of the human race shows that rejection and worse goes with the territory. Yet the assurance that Moses is described in the first reading as giving to the people has come to pass. Through the centuries, God has repeatedly fulfilled the promise that prophets will be raised up to speak the truth. To be a prophet means to care so deeply about the well being and needs of others that you are willing to risk your own safety, security and life in the process. We will always need people who are willing to lay everything on the line so that the truth will be heard.
During his life on earth, Jesus continued to be faithful to the mission given to him by the Father. He remained committed to confronting the power for evil in using his power for good. Applause or no applause, he continued to heal and to free those who were enslaved by illness of mind, spirit and body. He confronted those who laid burdens on the weak. His word, His presence, His Spirit are still active in our world and are still on offer to us this morning. God continues to speak to human kind through the living words of the Scripture as well as through people who have been inspired by the Spirit to communicate God’s truth. We are weak human beings and the truth can test the weakness in our knees. Prophets may make us angry and uncomfortable but out of this discomfort can come a greater understanding of God, of others and of ourselves.
+Liam S. MacDaid