God’s word is new and fresh. God speaks to us in varied ways according to the situation of our life. In this Sunday’s Gospel he speaks to us with authority; but what’s our response? Are we ready to let his word disturb us?
Bible Reading Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9 1 Corinthians 7: 12-35 Mark 1: 21-28
God who walks with his people
Often times in the Gospels we hear Jesus talk about the law and the prophets. The law represents the spirit in which God wished Israel to live as his chosen and liberated people. But that would not come about automatically, hence, the need to educate and accompany the people in acquiring a new attitude of life. So God didn’t just give the law and abandon Israel to himself; he continued to accompany and guide his people through the prophets. That’s why, in a way, a prophet is the voice of God in the community that reminds the people of their identity and the manner of living that’s expected of them. Through the prophet, God educates, guides, comforts and encourages his people. But he also corrects them. This last aspect, though necessary, can be quite disturbing, and so, hard to accept at times. Among the different persons who have accomplished this role of a prophet Jesus is quite exceptional.
A prophet with authority
The people of Israel had a number of prophets in the course of their history; however, they lived in the hope of the coming of a great prophet that would lead them, like in the days of Moses. It’s in such expectation that we hear the people ask John the Baptist if he’s Elijah or a prophet (cf. Jn 1:21). And later, when Jesus would teach and achieve great deeds people would not even ask but declare, like when he raised the dead man: “A great prophet has appeared among us!…God has visited His people!” (Lk 7:16). And in this Sunday’s Gospel people find that Jesus speaks in the manner quite original and so they just can’t restrain themselves but exclaim: “What is this? A new teaching-with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
But how does Jesus’ teaching stand out?
Firstly, Jesus is not like other prophets who received the word from God and then relayed it to others. In Jesus we have a prophet who is God’s word himself. In what says he’s not just relaying the message received but he’s communicating himself.
Besides, at the time of Jesus, you had rabbis who taught. What’s the basis of their teaching? They commented on the teachings of the past, famous rabbis and so they would introduce their discourse by saying: as such and such rabbis said…. and then they would proceed to expound the teaching. In short, you had a kind of teaching that’s more or less about preserving and passing on tradition. Consequently, you risk ending up with a kind of teaching devoid of warmth and disconnected from the reality of life. On the contrary, Jesus provokes a reaction because he offers something new. He teaches with authority.
Teaching with authority, what does it mean?
Put aside whatever bad taste you may harbour following abusive use of authority –here it’s different. Speaking of Jesu as someone who teaches with authority, the Greek word used is exousia, literally meaning, from being. Jesus speaks from his being. So we can say, in him there’s no hypocrisy and neither is he just repeating phrases of tradition. The newness and the freshness of his teaching lie in the fact that he draws from the treasures of his life –from his heart. He’s not indifferent but he can feel with others, and so, the word that comes from his mouth reaches out to people right in the situation of their life. And so, reciprocally, no one can remain indifferent to his word. People are astonished and even evil spirits realise that their dominion is over. Perhaps, here lies our challenge as Christians today: how do we speak with authority in the world of today?
Of course, it’s not the authority in terms of power to impose –it’s simply can’t work; but rather, a word that has power to re-join the hearts of people. God’s word is ever new and fresh; but how do we communicate it without doing damage to its qualities? It’s a challenge of evangelisation today –to deliver a word that comforts, heals, gives hope but also a word that encourages a person, in his reflection, to descend to the depth of his life. Indeed, the world needs a word that revives and gives the taste of living. It’s our role as prophets among our brothers and sisters today.
But what kind of prophet are you?
Remember what God says in the first reading, I shall raise a prophet, one from among the people. Each person, as Christian, is prophet in his family, in his place of work or among his friends. And so each one can ask oneself: what kind of word do I communicate; is it a word of authority that carries with it the newness and the freshness that others are anxious to hear?
However before we can be prophets capable of speaking a word of authority, we need first to allow ourselves be disturbed by God’s word.
I’m touched by the reaction of the possessed person at the presence of Jesus: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? ….” It’s like saying; we know who you are, but keep the distance, don’t disturb us! We prefer to keep things as they are –it’s a resistance to change. But make no mistake about this possessed person. Perhaps, you want to think of him in terms of a person in convulsions, disturbed in the head and roughly dressed. Well, we may be invaded by evil spirits in many subtle ways.
But what are evil spirits?
I may be a responsible family man, holding an important job with titles of honour, dressed in suite and respected by people; and yet I have attitudes and behaviours that make me resist the transforming presence of Jesus in my life. They are evils spirits all those things in my life that prevent me from becoming a better person and a better Christian; they are chains that hinder me from becoming the person I’m meant to be.
That’s why we may need to pray in order to be aware of the chains, that is the evils spirits, that arrest growth in us, both as persons and as Christians. It’s only after we are delivered from such bonds that we can be prophets capable of passing onto others a word of authority; that is, a word that gives life to those around us.
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