Mission Society of the Philippines

Homilies

4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE AUTHORITATIVE TEACHINGS OF JESUS

Mk 1: 21-28


WE HAVE HAD teachers in the course of our lives. We had a number of them at elementary school, at secondary school, and at college or university. Well, we prefer to forget some of them due to some reasons, but we remember others with great fondness. Some of them had a significant influence on us. They were experts on the subject and they have inspired us with a love for the subject that they taught us.

In today’s gospel Jesus is presented as a teacher. The people of Capernaum recognize Jesus who had come to their synagogue as a teacher. He may be compared to the existing teachers at the time: the scribes and the rabbis. Like them, Jesus had also disciples or pupils. But Jesus was not just an ordinary teacher. The people have observed that He is someone different from the rabbis and the scribes.

Let us go over the important moments of the gospel, and reflect on them.

Firstly, the gospel passage defines the difference between Jesus as Teacher and the rabbis. It says, “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” His teaching made a deep impression on people, because, unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority. And how was that possible? There are a few reasons. On the one hand, Jesus’ teaching was not confined to commenting the Law, as the scribes and rabbis did. When Jesus taught, He gave a new interpretation, as well as a new depth. For example, He taught about the importance of loving our enemies. In Mt 5: 43-44, Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." So, that is the how Jesus interprets and gives new depth or meaning of the Law. On the other hand, the phrase that Jesus utters, ‘But I say to you…’ is also authoritative because He puts Himself on the level of God. And because of these, Jesus indeed taught with authority.

The word ‘authority’ may not appear attractive in our time. People are allergic to various ‘authority figures’ and they have been criticized, often with good reason. Yet, in the case of Jesus, people experienced an authority that they found attractive. It is an authority that left them so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. Ultimately, his authority was rooted in God, in the Spirit of God that descended upon Him at His baptism. The first public words he spoke after his baptism were, ‘the kingdom of God is at hand.’

Secondly, the gospel passage speaks about a man with an unclean spirit and who recognized Jesus as ‘the Holy One of God’. During the time of Jesus, evil spirits were considered to be numerous and powerful, hanging around everywhere and doing whatever they could to inflict trouble and suffering. When someone seemed to be possessed of a demon, the exorcists used complicated magical rites and spells to compel the demon to leave.

But in comparing Him to these exorcists, Jesus was astonishingly different. When the demon-possessed man disrupted the meeting, Jesus simply ordered the demon to leave, and it left. The people in the synagogue had never seen anything like it. Thus, again, they exclaimed, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” In this case, the authority of Jesus is seen as God’s life-giving and liberating power. The man was possessed by the devil, perhaps, for so long. And with the authoritative word or order of Jesus, the man was set free. Indeed, the authority of Jesus is liberating and life-giving.

For us as Christians, Jesus remains the ultimate authority. However, not all Christians follow the authoritative words and teachings of Jesus. Often it is easier to follow the enticements of the devil. But let us take note that each time we renew our baptismal promises, we say that we reject the enticements of Satan and we believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Let us develop that attitude of the people in Jesus’ time. The people were ‘astonished’ at His teachings. We have a reason to be always astonished at Jesus’ teachings because they are life-giving and they give us the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. AMEN.


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