Fr. Luke Sunday Homily- January 31st
“What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” Words from our Gospel today from the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to Mark – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Did you ever participate in a fad, either growing up or recently? Fads are objects or behaviors that achieve a short-lived popularity but then fade away. Fads include diets, clothing, hairstyles, toys, and more. We can think of Beanie Babies, the Adkins diet, the Macarena, the Ice Bucket Challenge, big poufy 70’s hair, and there are many of others. I had a bunch of those colorful live-strong bracelets, those rubber wristbands, at one point but not anymore. Marketing and Social Media thrive on fads as they make us feel like we are missing out on life when we don’t have it or aren’t participating in it. But in time, these things fade away. Why is that? It’s not that they are worthless, because we have found some value in pursuing them at some point or another, but they fade away because they don’t offer anything enduring, with meaning, that reflects what life itself is about. In a manner of speaking, you could say that Fads are “teaching without authority”; fads invite us to adopt them into our lifestyle, teaching us how life is better when we participate in the fad, but without the substance to back them up, without any authority, they fade away from many of our lives just as quickly as they came.
When Jesus entered the synagogue and spoke, the people were amazed at the power and authority with which he taught. “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” The scribes quoted previous experts and authorities for important interpretations of Scripture and the Law. On the other hand, the Greek word used in the Gospel to describe Jesus’ teaching, exousia, means that he taught out of himself. In other words, he did not use other authorities to strengthen his arguments because he is the authority. Jesus, as the eternal son of God has existed from the foundation of the world, and he speaks the truth as to how creation is to be, how the reign of God gives us true freedom and fulfillment and life. He knows what he is about and so teaches with authority.
Into this context wanders the man possessed by an unclean spirit (or demon in other translations). Jesus’ first miracle in Mark’s Gospel has Jesus not only teaching but also exorcising demons and unclean spirits. “In the Old Testament, the command to be holy like God implies life, wholeness, and completeness, whereas unclean suggests something that should not be, that something is out of place (for example, having soil in the farmer’s field is productive but in the middle of a house it is dirt, out of place, unclean). “If such a person, afflicted with an unclean spirit, was found in a holy place like the synagogue, he would certainly have to be removed. He would have been out of place and clashing with everything that was understood to be holy. While Jesus does cast out the evil spirit, he does not have the man leave; thus, he establishes the reign of God in a previously disordered situation. His authority is being put to the test, and it is affirmed. Jesus puts life back into order. His teaching, the way of life he espouses, is delivered with the authority and the ability to accomplish just that.
We all know that there are times in our lives as well as areas in the world where things are disordered and chaotic. We are wrestling with our own demons, often caught in their web of lies before we recognize what has happened. When things get out of place, we begin to realize that the pleasures held out to us cannot really satisfy the desires of the human heart. We try to escape from sin and dysfunction, but we are so often sidetracked or derailed along the way. Our weary hearts latch on to the promises and predictions advanced by politicians, self-help guides, media moguls, marketing trends, social media, and peer pressures, and yet the conflict goes on. Alas, we realize their authority is waning. Fads, trends, people, come and go. It is only then that we humble ourselves and reach out for salvation that we heed the invitation of the reign of God.
And then a voice is heard in the midst of the chaos of our lives. The voice rings with authority: be quiet, come out. With Jesus, everything is put back in its proper place and order. Jesus alone has the power to set us free from all that makes us anxious. He wants us to be whole once more. The Christian way of life he espouses is passed on through the teaching and authority of the Church and that grace is still available to us today. No earthly reality will possess us, neither relationships nor obligations, nor even religious practices, whether married or unmarried, whether in the midst of the community or at its margins, all of us here are able to heed the voice of God in our hearts and to recognize Jesus in our midst ushering in the reign of the Kingdom of God.
What is this? A new teaching with authority. What is this? What is this? This question from the Gospel is a good question for us. Judge for yourself. Jesus’ teaching is true. The work of Jesus carried on through the Church continues to be true. Look at the saints the Church has produced throughout her troubled history, in spite of all that is out of place in the world. Like the saints, may we also have the courage ourselves, not to make this Christian lifestyle simply a fad in our lives, but follow Jesus truly, and so exorcise the demons in our life, as together with Christ, we put everything into its proper place.