4th Sunday O T Year – B – 15
Deu.18:15-20 / 1Cor.7:32-35 / Mk.1:21-28
Once a government surveyor brought his equipment to a farm, called on the farmer and asked permission to go into one of the fields and take readings. The farmer vigorously objected, fearing that the survey was the first step toward the construction of a highway through his land. “I will not give permission to go into my fields,” said the angry farmer.
Whereupon the surveyor produced an official government document which authorized him to do the survey. “I have the authority,” he said, “to enter any field in the entire country to take necessary readings.” Faced with such authority, the farmer opened the gate and allowed the surveyor to enter the field.
The farmer then went to the far end of the field and opened another gate, through which one of his fiercest bulls came charging. Seeing the raging bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and ran for his life. The farmer shouted after him: “Show the paper, show him your authority!” The unfortunate surveyor had the authority but the farmer’s bull had the more convincing power.
The philosopher Karl Marx once said that the aim of philosophy should be not just to explain the world but to change the world. The same can be said about the gospel we preach and teach. The people of Capernaum received sacred instruction in their synagogue every Sabbath. One Sabbath they had a different preacher, Jesus.
What Jesus taught them that day, as well as the way he presented and demonstrated his message simply amazed them. Why? “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk.1:22). Jesus’ teaching contrasted sharply with that of the scribes. In one word, Jesus taught with authority, the scribes did not.
What does it mean to teach with authority? Comparing and contrasting the teaching of Jesus with that of the scribes we notice three distinguishing qualities: The teaching of Jesus was (a) was from the heart and not just from the head, (b) focuses on the spirit and not on the letter of the law, and (c) brought about a visible change for the better.
Jesus taught from the heart. He taught with absolute conviction in his message because he knew that his message was in accordance with the mind of God. We know this, when Jesus was trying to persuade his unbelieving audience, “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony” (Jn.3:11).
This was possible for Jesus because of his personal and intimate relationship with God his Father. The scribes, on the other hand got their knowledge not from their personal communion with God but from their long and laborious study of the Talmud, a collection of the oral teachings and commentaries on the Law.
A second difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of the scribes lies in the content of the message. Whereas the scribes sought to apply the prescription of the Law to the letter, Jesus went deeper to find out the spirit, the original intent of the law. Take, for example, the law of Sabbath observance.
The scribes would busy themselves trying to determine precisely when the Sabbath begins and ends, and who was at work and who wasn’t. Jesus would rather seek the mind of God who gave the law to His people as an expression of His fatherly care and love. His conclusion is that the Sabbath is a day we keep away from our work in order to do God’s work (Jn.5:17).
On account of this positive accent of his message, people perceived the teaching of Jesus as liberating good news in contrast to that of the scribes which they perceived as a heavy burden. The final difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of the scribes is that the teaching of Jesus was always intended to bring about a visible change for the better. The scribes taught whatever made sense in terms of their understanding of the Law and Traditions.
Take for example the man born blind from birth; the scribes sought to explain why he was blind, whether it was he who sinned or his parents. Jesus, on the other hand was only interested in curing the blindness. For this reason Jesus performed healing and exorcism along with his teaching to show that he was interested in changing the human situation not just in explaining it.
Let us approach Jesus for liberation. Jesus did not use his authority and divine power to rule and control people. He came to make people free. Hence, let us approach Jesus with trusting faith so that he may free us from the evil spirits that keep us from praying and prevent us from loving and sharing our blessings with others.
He also frees us from all the “evil spirits” of fear, compulsions, selfishness, anger, resentment and hostility. “I have come that they may have life, life in abundance” (Jn.10:10). So Jesus should be the source of liberation for us. May he free us from all those spirits which make us deaf, dumb, blind, lame and paralyzed, physically and spiritually.
Through Word and Sacrament, he brings that power to us and says to the demons in our life, “Be gone!” He says it as often as we need to hear it, over and over again, until by his power we are free from them all. Christ has power over any demon, whether that demon be an addiction, a heartache, a secret sin–whatever our need may be–Christ can set us free.
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!” “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. “Well, there’s so much to live for.” “Like what?” “Well, are you religious?””Yes.” “Me too! Are you Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist?” “Christian.” “Me, too!
Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “Protestant.” “Me, too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?””Baptist.” “Wow, me, too! Are you Church of God or Church of the Christ?””Church of God!” “Me, too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God!” “Me, too!
Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!” I said, “Die, heretic,” and pushed him off.
What is our attitude to the word of God we hear? Do we allow it to challenge us and bring about a difference in our lives or is it simply to satisfy some intellectual curiosity? If it is the gospel of Jesus that we hear, then we cannot hear it week after week and remain the same. Amen.