Following Christ’s Authority, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), January 29, 2012

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
January 29, 2012
Dt 18:15-20, Ps 95:1-2 6-9, 1Cor 7:32-35, Mk 1:21-28

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

  • In today’s Gospel, we see that on the Sabbath day, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. All those who listened to him were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught with authority and not like the scribes.” He then showed the tremendous power of his authoritative words by silencing and casting a demon out of a man. That amazed the crowd even further. They asked, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
  • The same Jesus who entered the Capernaum synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath enters this beautiful New Bedford Church on the Christian Sabbath. And here he teaches with the same authority he wielded two thousand years ago. He has just spoken to us in the word of God and later he who created the heavens and the earth with his word, who called fishermen and tax collectors to follow him so powerfully that they immediately got up and do so, will do something far more amazing than cast out a devil or silence a storm at sea. He will change bread and wine into his body and blood and cast himself into us. If we recognize what is really going on, if we awaken to the power of his words, we will be far more amazed than Jesus’ contemporaries two millennia ago.
  • Jesus teaches unlike any other teacher. His contemporaries said he “taught with authority, unlike the scribes.” They scribes always used to cite Sacred Scripture or Jewish tradition, to base their teachings on the authority of the word of God. Well, Jesus didn’t need to cite the word of God, because he was the word of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, he contrasted himself to what Moses, their greatest teacher up until then, said to them in the desert: “You have heard that it was said — in other words, Moses said to you — ‘you shall not kill…’ ‘you shall not commit adultery… ,’ ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…,’ BUT I SAY TO YOU, you shall not even be angry with a brother, or look on a woman with lust in your heart, or if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other as well” (Mt 5:20-45). Authority comes from the Latin word for “author,” and Jesus spoke with authority because he was the author, the creator, of man and the world. To capture just a little of what it must have been like to listen to Jesus talk about God, about the world, about man, and about faith and morality, we can imagine listening to Vince Lombardi discuss football, the Wright Brothers talk about airplanes, Henry Ford talk about cars, Thomas Edison describe electricity, Steve Jobs talk about computers, iPads, iPods and iPhones. They could speak with greater authority than almost everyone else because they were the “authors,” the inventors, of what we now take for granted. Well, that’s just a glimpse of what it would be like to listen to Jesus, who is the author of the world, the one through whom all things were made. He could command even the seas and the wind (Mk 4:41) and the demons and they would obey him, because he is the Lord of all.
  • Jesus continues to teach with that amazing authority. He does so clearly at Mass. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded us that “when the holy scriptures are read in Church, it is Christ himself who speaks” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). That’s why we stand when the Gospel is proclaimed, because we stand for Christ who himself is proclaiming it through his minister.
  • But Christ also speaks to us with his authority through the teaching of the Church, to whom he gave his own amazing authority to continue his saving work. Before ascending into heaven, he said to his apostles: “Full AUTHORITY in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and TEACHING them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:18-20). He gave that authority in a special way to the visible head of the Church he founded. He told Peter that he was the rock on whom he was going to build his Church and then gave him the authority to open and lock the way to heaven: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). The Church firmly believes that that authority was passed down to St. Peter’s successors all the way to Pope Benedict. But Christ also gave his authority to the apostles as a whole (and their successors, the bishops). Through Moses in the first reading, God had said in prophecy about Jesus, the prophet God would raise up from among the Jewish people, “Whoever will not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.” When Jesus, that long-awaited messenger of God the Father actually came, he authoritatively spoke about how he was giving that authority to his apostolic ambassadors to teach in his name, saying in St. Luke’s Gospel, “Whoever hears you hears me, and whoever rejects you rejects me” (Lk 10:16).
  • The question for us today is: How we respond to the Lord’s teaching? Are we amazed by it? Grateful for it? Astonished at the authority? Do we follow it or resist it, trusting our own opinions more than we trust God’s word? If we’re not astonished by it, today’s psalm helps us to see why. Do you remember what the response was we prayed four times today together? (If we don’t remember it, it’s probably not because of a bad memory but probably because we weren’t astonished by it and therefore were not paying adequate attention to it.) The psalm says, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Lack of astonishment is not a function of a hardened brain, but a stony heart. It’s not a thing of inadequate intelligence, but of insufficient love. Those who love God are astonished and amazed by him and what he says and does. That’s where we need to begin. The psalm says that many of the Israelites had hardened hearts “even though they had seen my works.” God has done far greater works for us than he did for the Jews in Egypt, but sometimes, just like our spiritual ancestors, our hearts harden through sin, self-centeredness, and lack of love such that we love our amazement at God and the gifts he gives us.
  • Today, moved by the Gospel, is an opportunity for us to stoke our amazement and authority at Jesus’ teaching, which is a great gift. Jesus teaches us today, just like he did during his own day. Even though sometimes we might pretend otherwise, Jesus knows that we don’t know it all and he speaks to us day-by-day, subject-by-subject through prayer, through the Word of God, through the school of the Church, to help us overcome our ignorance, the ignorance that really does harm us. Ignorance is not bliss; it’s misery. It’s the same way in the faith. When we’re immature spiritual ruffians, we would prefer to call the shots ourselves. When we grow up spiritually, however, we recognize how little we know, how much we need to learn, and how grateful we are for the education in faith and life Christ gives us. The real litmus test as to whether our heart is hardened or astonished and amazed is how we respond to the gift of God’s teaching. All of us who read have our favorite authors whose works we generally devour. For me, I love to read Peter Kreeft, CS Lewis, Scott Hahn, Prof. Robert George and Archbishop Charles Chaput. Anything they write I want to read because they give me lenses to see things I don’t notice, understand or appreciate on my own. Those who like fiction generally can’t wait until the next book comes out from their favorite authors, like Ken Follett, John Grisham, JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, Steven King and others. Each is us is called to have more zeal for what the Holy Spirit writes us through the Word of God and the teaching of the Church than kids in recent years have had for the Harry Potter books. We — you and I — need to read the Bible, particularly the Gospels. We can hear a little bit of the Word of God at Church, but if we never study the Word of God on our own, we’re no better than a student who never does homework. None of us is a “spiritual genius” with all of this knowledge infused. We need to ponder what Jesus teaches us with authority in Sacred Scripture. We also have to ponder what he teaches us through the Church he founded, through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, through the writings of the Popes and the bishops. We need to overcome the spiritual immaturity of thinking we learned everything we need to know about the faith by the time we were confirmed. It’s simply not true. There’s so much to learn, and this truth will set our lives free. But we need to begin with that astonishment and amazement of heart.
  • We see what drives our astonishment and amazement in today’s second reading. St. Paul was writing to the Corinthians about marriage, which in his day was a distraction from God, because in ancient Corinth many weddings were to pagan spouses who wouldn’t pray with their Christian spouses and who often became obstacles to their practice. It obviously doesn’t have to be that way, in God’s plans it’s not meant to be that way, but in Corinth in the 50s AD, practically-speaking, it was. That’s why Paul praised virginity or celibacy for the kingdom because it allowed a person to be “anxious about the affairs of the Lord.” Today we know, and the Church firmly teaches, that all of us, celibates, married men and women, young men and women still discerning what God wants of them, are called to be anxious about the Lord’s business. The Sacrament of Marriage, the marriage, in other words, between two baptized spouses in the Church, is meant to be a living, life-long encounter with God in which the spouses reverence one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21). Marriage is not only not an impediment to being concerned about the Lord’s mission but the sacrament of marriage is meant to help a man and woman to do so together, hand-in-hand. If we’re anxious about the Lord’s affairs, though, we will first come to learn from him what is it he wants of us so that we can then do it as he wants. If we’re anxious about his affairs, we’ll hunger for his Word in Sacred Scripture and through the teaching of the Church that continues to speak to us authoritatively in his name.
  • At the beginning of Mass, we prayed together an incredibly beautiful hymn about God’s word. We turned to God and said, “Word of God, come down on earth, living rain from heaven descending; 
touch our hearts [which can be stony!] and bring to birth faith and hope and love unending.
 Word almighty we revere you; Word made flesh, we long to hear you. … Word eternal, throned on high, Word that brought to life creation,
 Word that came from heaven to die, crucified for our salvation,. Saving Word, the world restoring, speak to us, your love outpouring. … Word that caused blind eyes to see, speak and heal our mortal blindness; 
deaf we are: our healer be; loose our tongues to tell your kindness.
 Be our Word in pity spoken; heal the world, by our sin broken. [And finally we turn to the union between “two tables” at Mass] Word that speaks your Father’s love, one with him beyond all telling,
Word that sends us from above God the Spirit, with us dwelling,
 Word of truth, to all truth lead us, Word of life, with one Bread feed us.” Word of God, come down on earth, touch us, increase our longing and amazement, lovingly speak to us, lead us to all truth and feed us with your Word-made-flesh so that we may enter into one flesh communion with you!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Dt 18:15-20

Moses spoke to all the people, saying:
“A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen.
This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb
on the day of the assembly, when you said,
‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,
nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’
And the LORD said to me, ‘This was well said.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him.
Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name,
I myself will make him answer for it.
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name
an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak,
or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.'”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2 1 Cor 7:32-35

Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Gospel Mk 1:21-28

Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are?the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.