Homily preached by Br Simeon at Blaxland on Sunday 1st February 2015: 4th SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY. Yr B
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
The people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes: “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A kindergarten teacher gave her class a “show and tell” assignment of bringing something to represent their religion.
The first child got in front of the class and said, “My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish and this is the Star of David.”
The second child got in front of her class and said, “My name is Mary, I am Catholic and this is the Crucifix.”
The third child got up in front of his class and said, “My name is Tommy and I am Baptist and this is a casserole.”
Today’s gospel reading tells us that on the Sabbath Jesus and His disciples attended the seaside synagogue at Capernaum. There Jesus began to teach and “the people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as One who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1: 22) The Jewish rabbis (teachers of the law) claimed authority by quoting famous rabbis of the past. Jesus’ teaching was different because He didn’t need to claim the authority of others. He was (is) the authority HIMSELF! He is equal with His Heavenly Father in every way. He was with the Father from before the beginning of creation. He, Himself, is the Creator of the world. All scripture (Old and New testaments) point to Him. He is the author of Life. As He said of Himself, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18)
For the poor Jews of Jesus’ time, the scribes were the voices of authority, the final arbiters of the Law in which God had revealed himself. Their interpretation of the Law was considered absolute.
While Jesus was teaching with this “divine authoritative power,” a man “possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do You want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!’” (Mark 1: 23-24)
Jesus refused to let the evil spirit speak further because it was not yet time for Jesus to be revealed as the Messiah. Jesus refused to let the people of the synagogue be confused by the deceptive mixture of truth and lies which were being uttered by this evil spirit. By His, almighty, divine authority, Jesus commanded the spirit to be silent and to come out of the man! Immediately, it happened – just as Jesus had commanded!
“Demons” are encountered several times in Mark’s Gospel. Anything that the people of Jesus’ time could not understand or explain, such as disease, mental illness or bizarre or criminal behaviour, were considered the physical manifestations of the evil one -- “demons” or “unclean spirits.”
Both demons and scribes are silenced in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ casting out the unclean spirit from the man possessed, silences the voices of the demons that plague humanity. In his compassionate outreach to the poor and sick, Jesus “silences” the scribes by redefining the community’s understanding of authority: whereas the “authority” of the scribes’ words is based solely on their perceived status and learnedness, the authority of Jesus is born of compassion, peace and justice. The casting out of the demons and his curing of the sick who come to him are but manifestations of the power and grace of his words.
Note that the people of the Bible viewed miracles differently than we do. While we, in our high technology, scientific approach to the world, dismiss miracles as some kind of disruption or “overriding” of the laws of nature, the contemporaries of Jesus saw miracles as signs of God's immediate activity in his creation. While we ask, How could this happen?, they asked, Who is responsible? Their answer was always the same: the God of all creation.
Those who witnessed Jesus' healings, then, saw them as God directly touching their lives.
True authority is propelled by persuasion, not by force; effective leadership is a matter of articulating a shared goal rather than warning of the consequences of failure.
Jesus’ “authority” inspires rather than enforces, lifts up rather than controls; he sees his call to “lead” as a trust, as a responsibility to serve others by revealing the God who calls us to compassion and mercy for the sake of his kingdom of peace, instead of a God of judgement and vengeance.
Authority comes not from power to enforce but from the ability to inspire.
The ‘unclean spirit’ that Jesus casts out of the poor man in today’s Gospel serves as a symbol of the voice of evil that sometimes speaks within us -- the voice of revenge, self- centredness, self-righteousness, greed, anger.
We can be “possessed” by “demons” who discourage us and trouble us with fear when we consider the unpopular position that we know is right and just; or the “demon” of rationalisation that falsely justifies actions -- or inactions -- we know in our heart of hearts is contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. The compassionate Jesus of today’s Gospel speaks to those "unclean spirits" as well, offering us the grace and courage to cast them out of our minds and hearts forever.