4th of the Year, 31.1.21
Perhaps a word that comes to mind as we read or hear today`s scripture readings is a word that stirs various emotions in people and that word is “AUTHORITY”.
In the passage from Deuteronomy 18 we heard of Moses saying to the People of Israel, “Your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself from your own brothers; to him you must listen.” Later the Lord says to Moses, “I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him.” and goes on, “The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name f other gods, that prophet shall die.” The warning is dire yet points to the fact that true authority can come from God alone!
From the passage from chapter 7 of St. Paul`s first letter to the Christians at Corinth, clearly reflects the attitude of St. Paul`s time that moment of Christ`s return would be soon – probably in the lifetime of his fellow-Christians as he gives instructions on the wisdom of staying single in order that his hearers might be free from worry and be able to give undivided attention to the Lord rather than being weighed down by the cares of family life and of this world. He points out that such devotion should be much easier for the unmarried man or unmarried woman. But having made those strong statements he then goes on to say that he does not say these things to put a halter around the necks of his hearers, ”but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.”
In the Gospel, still in chapter 1 of St. Mark, we find Jesus and his followers, Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John who he had chosen and called at the lakeside as we heard in last Sunday`s gospel reading, going as far as Capernaum, the most important town on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus entering the synagogue on the sabbath and beginning to teach. Such was the impression that Jesus gave to his hearers that they recognized that, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority! The teaching is confirmed by His healing power when n the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit who shouts out, recognizing Jesus for who he truly is, `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.` Jesus tells the man, sharply, to be quiet and commands the spirit to come out of the man which thing happened and the man was thrown into convulsions as the spirit came out. Mark tells us the reaction of the worshippers at the synagogue and we can hardly be surprised that they said, `Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.` Mark makes it plain that the Lord`s reputation rapidly spread everywhere throughout Galilee>
This story is how St, Mark, in his gospel account, begins his record of our Lord`s ministry which was predominantly in Galilee and not long after he had spent his forty days in the Wilderness of Judea after his baptism which was, effectively, the Father`s commissioning of him, to begin his three years of teaching and healing culminating in his death and resurrection. The AUTHORITY that Jesus exudes is an authority that liberates us and sets us free!
We`ve all had teachers at different times in our lives at primary school, at secondary school, at university, the armed forces, in industry and commerce, at theological colleges or medical school or nursing or teacher training places. Some of whom we have greatly loved and remember with great fondness and some we would prefer to forget. One of my primary school teachers, Sr. Mary of Nazareth – named after Our Blessed Lady - who I am sure, through her personal holiness, kindness and encouragement was instrumental in fostering my vocation to the priesthood years later. One I would quite like to forget is a physics master at Grammar school who, if you answered a question wrongly gave a small electric shock from a magneto as punishment! Many of the scribes, of Our Lord`s time, were more concerned about their own status and Kudos enforcing the letter of the Law rather than living by the spirit of the Law of Moses. Seeing and hearing Jesus on that Sabbath Day at Capernaum the local worshippers were bowled over! They became instrumental in spreading the Good News of what he had to say and do! The power of God`s love working in Jesus gave him an authority which people found both attractive and new.
The word AUTHORITY in our own time causes mixed feeling in people not least because how various people in positions of authority, over the years, have abused the authority with which they have been invested – I don`t even need to draw examples for each of us is very aware of a number of them – even in the Church itself!
The authority that Jesus holds and shows is the exercise of God`s life-giving and liberating power, the power that raises the lowly and fills the hungry with good things, that includes within the community those who have been living on the edge, the power that forgives those who have done nothing to deserve forgiveness.
We are here today precisely because for us Christians it is Jesus who is and remains the ultimate authority because we confess that he is not just our teacher but Our Lord! But he the Lord who give himself totally for us and for all humanity by his giving up of his life upon the Cross, by sharing his life with us in His living Body and living Blood in the Bread and Wine of the Last Supper and of every Mass. We are happy to submit to his authority – his Lordship, because we recognize that it is he alone who offers us life to the full, to be freed of those spirits that prevent us from becoming fully the person that God intends us to be.