Ordinary Time - Fourth Sunday of Year B
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Deuteronomy 18, 15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
“His teaching made a deep impression on them because he taught them with authority.” So we read in today’s Gospel.
We are not very happy with authority today. We aren’t keen on trusting someone’s judgement just because of the role they have. Whether it be the police, the medical profession, law makers, teachers or clergy –all have to justify themselves.
People don’t accept anything today just because they are told it. They want to know why. I suppose this is because those in authority have abused their power. They have taken short-cuts and caused hurt and harm
The police have been caught out rigging evidence, doctors have been found to have made wrong diagnoses, law makers have shown themselves to be corrupt, teachers have just lectured us without ensuring we really understood, and priests have looked after themselves and failed to go after the lost sheep.
It is understandable that we resent those who have exercised their authority badly. We feel let down, we feel that our trust has been abused; we feel we can’t rely on anything any more. Those who fail to carry out their responsibilities let us all down; they give everyone a bad name.
But what about Jesus and the way he exercised authority? Here is the Son of God; the Lord of Creation, the one with all the power that ever could be vested in one individual, so it is important that we look to see how he exercises it? And the short answer is that he exercises authority with gentleness.
He who could rule all, doesn’t. He who could destroy even the evil spirits doesn’t, he simply rebukes them. He who could call armies of angels to defend him doesn’t, instead he allows himself to be taken into custody, tried, tortured and executed.
It is what Jesus doesn’t do that is more astonishing than what he does do. You will notice from the Gospel, it wasn’t the casting out of the evil spirits that astonished the people it was his teaching. Not his actions but his words.
It is no wonder that the people were astonished. Jesus truly is the prophet foretold by Moses who speaks the words God has put into his mouth. And these words are words of love, words of truth, words of peace, words of gentleness.
And in his words he reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom to us, mere children. And does not our heart burn within us as he talks to us on the road through life. We hear his words and we are astonished and filled with joy.
Jesus was no prophet in the ordinary sense of the word. Although on occasion he used harsh language to certain groups with vested interests, he did not lambaste the ordinary people in the way that some of the prophets felt they had to.
The prophets of old were faced with a stubborn people who could not see God’s will, and, for the most part, they were fiery preachers who used strong language and threats to put across their message.
Jesus doesn’t do this. He is far better than a prophet. He doesn’t threaten, he doesn’t shout and bawl, he doesn’t really ever get angry with the people. His message is Blessed are the poor; Love your neighbour; Do go to those who persecute you; Pray for the coming of the Kingdom. And his message is all the more powerful for the fact that he has all the authority that has ever existed or will ever exist—but doesn’t use it.
We don’t call him a prophet, or even the prophet. We call him Emmanuel –God with us, Jesus –one who saves.
Here is real authority; here is the authority of God himself. Here is an authority figure who respects us more than we respect ourselves. Here is an authority figure who goes so far as to give his life for our sake.
While we distrust the authority figures of our world today, we must, of course, acknowledge that each of us somewhere or other also exercises authority; whether it be as a parent, an elder brother or sister, or in some aspect of our work. And in our exercise of authority we are guilty of the very things we accuse our oppressors. We too are open to question and to accusation.
So let us take Jesus for our example and guide in the way we exercise our responsibilities. Let us teach our children as he would. Let us treat our younger brothers and sisters as he would. Let us treat our subordinates at work as he would. Let us treat all those we have power over, however insignificant that might be, just as he would.
We will then find that people accord us an authority not based on any power we hold but based on the credibility and consistency of our lives.
The effect of doing this is that society itself will change and become better. We Christians will have become an active leaven in the world. Our patience, tolerance and gentleness will have become infectious and will have spread from the top to the bottom of our society. We will wake up one day and discover that we have built up the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Through the efforts of the Dalai Lama we have heard what the Chinese Communist Government has done in Tibet since it invaded in 1949. We have heard how even now they have systematically attempted to eradicate every vestige of Tibetan religion and culture.
There was a certain army commander who was particularly brutal towards the Buddhist monks and nuns of Tibet. He revelled in the reputation he had gained as a persecutor and destroyer of monasteries. His reputation had grown to such an extent that he only had to approach a monastery with his soldiers and the monks fled.
One day he arrived at the gates of a well-known monastery and when the gates were battered down he was again pleased to hear that the monks had fled. He very quickly flew into a rage, however, when one of his officers reported that in the inner courtyard there remained one solitary monk. He strode off into the cloister and went right up to the monk who was standing there peacefully before him.
‘Don’t you know who I am?’ he yelled into the monk’s face. ‘Without blinking an eye, I can run you right through with my sword.’ The monk quietly responded: ‘Don’t you know who I am? Without blinking an eye, I can let you run me through with that sword.’