Sunday, January 29, 2012
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time—B
Jesus taught as “one having authority and not as the scribes,” we are told in today’s Gospel. He was authentic, the real deal, no question about it. The implication is that the scribes – the synagogue “authorities” – were not. They may have been good people, and their teaching may have been correct, but their motives were suspect. They did not teach with valid authority.
In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses relays God’s message to the people that he will eventually send a prophet like Moses, one to whom they should listen. As we know from the Old Testament, many great prophets succeeded Moses, and they all prefigured the Great Prophet, who is Christ. However, there were also false prophets, and in the first reading Moses warns the people against them. Again, they may have been good people, and their teaching may have been correct, but their motives were suspect.
Even the most sincere among us must acknowledge that, as commentator Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. writes, we carry some “measure of dishonesty and bias, of partial blindness to the truth and favoritism toward our own insights and personal causes.” Our motives, if we are completely honest with ourselves, our often suspect and driven by concern for self above all else. Even “good” people do the right things for the wrong reasons. In a sense, as imperfect human beings, we are all inauthentic.
In his mercy, love, and compassion, God desires nothing more than to restore our authenticity—to reveal who we are truly meant to be as children created in his image. He does not wish us to be anxious, distracted, or divided by suspect motives—to be false selves. And so, as the first reading prophesies, God raised up for us Jesus, the Great Prophet, from among us. He was flesh and blood like us, yet filled with the Spirit of God the Father, and this Spirit he breathes upon us, into us, casting out with authority all that is false and divisive.
In the passage from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel read at Mass today, Jesus enters the synagogue, teaches with authority, and then encounters a man with an unclean spirit who recognizes who Jesus truly is. It is an important scene, setting the tone and direction for the entire Gospel.
Jesus the Great Prophet comes with the authority of God to save, heal, and restore. He enters the synagogue of our souls, and fills God’s temple within us with the Holy Spirit. There he encounters our false selves, the divided heart guided by suspect motives. Then, with compassion for us, he condemns not the human being, but rebukes the evil spirit within:
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
After being baptized, announcing that the
If we let him in, open our hearts to him, ask him to stay with us through the gifts of prayer, Word, Sacrament, the life of the Church, and the practice of virtue, then we can truly say as did St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galations 2:20). If we listen to him as one having authority, then the unclean spirit within will obey and come out.
It may require a lifetime to align our motives with all our thoughts, words, and deeds in order to become our authentic selves in Christ through the love of God and his Holy Spirit. However, Jesus assures us that “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
In the end, as the “good thief” crucified with Jesus demonstrated (cf. Luke 23: 39-43), it is not perfection that counts, but authenticity. As
That, thanks be to God, is the real deal.