Jesus Teaches with Authority

Fr Joe Burke reflect son the Gospel passage of the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).

This Sunday’s Gospel passage comes from chapter one of Mark. Jesus, having chosen his disciples, goes with them to Capernaum where he enters the synagogue and begins teaching for the very first time. In the synagogue there is a man possessed by an unclean spirit who recognises Jesus as the Holy One of God and asks if He has come to destroy them. With a simple command Jesus orders the spirit to leave the man, which it does. The people are amazed not only because of the exorcism that has just taken place but more so because of the authority and power Jesus has. He “teaches them with authority, unlike their own scribes”. This is very important.

The Scribes were the main teachers of the people in ways of their faith. It was the Scribes who would pass on the teachings of the prophets and the laws which governed day-to-day life. But whenever a Scribe spoke or taught, he would always begin by stating the authority upon which he taught. He was never speaking for himself but always relaying the meaning of the laws and prophecies as expounded by other great teachers and prophets and thinkers. The Scribe taught with the authority given him by someone else. This is also similar to the Old Testament prophets who, when they spoke, would say only the words given them by God. The prophet would never say, “I am telling you this from myself..” but rather “God says this…” or “the word of the Lord has instructed me to tell you…”.

But here in the synagogue in Capernaum, it is different. Jesus is speaking by his own authority and what is more, His teachings are backed up by the power displayed in His miracles! Little wonder then the people are amazed! Here is someone speaking and teaching using simple words and concepts they can easily understand and identify with, giving instructions which are radically new but which will offer a whole new way of seeing the world as well as their own lives, with all the good and bad there may be going on. And that is the point of this passage — Jesus words and teachings, backed up by his miracles, highlight an authority which is not of this world. This is God himself who is speaking and teaching and casting out demons. As we hear, the people two thousand years ago recognised this and were awestruck.

Two thousand years on, this passage is just as full of meaning for us in our modern world with all the craziness of Covid-19 going on in our lives as well as the other cares and problems we face. The words of the Lord are there for us to give us—if we allow them—a new insight, a new way of seeing and approaching the world and our own lives. Those words will comfort and guide and direct us, enabling us to truly become the Lord’s followers and modern-day disciples. The challenge for us is to let this happen but it can only come to pass if we are truly open to Him, listening to Him and taking His teachings on board. He is there, offering His hand to us but it has to be our choice to take it and to listen to Him.

Let’s make our prayer this week one in which we ask God to open our hearts and our ears to hear what He is saying to us and to take it to heart. Amen.