Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
True Human - True Knowledge - True Authority
First Reading (Deut 18:15-20 ) : God will send a prophet to speak for Him.
Second Reading (1 Cor 7:32-35 ) : We must serve the Lord with whole heart and will
Gospel (Mk 1:21-28 ) : Preaching and exorcising in Capernaum
Chinese Classics :“The Master said, ‘Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with virtue.’ ”(1)
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. ( Mk 1:21-28 )
Mark records in today's Gospel the account of Jesus' first public preaching in the synagogue of Capernaum and his first miracle of casting out devils. This was after he had been baptized and called the first apostles. Mark was a disciple of Peter. He heard concrete details of Jesus' Public Life from the Apostle Peter who had witnessed Jesus' deeds and words with his own eyes and ears.
At the time Peter had just become Jesus' disciple, so what Jesus said and did left an indelible impression on him. He remembered clearly people's amazement at Jesus' teaching, because Jesus taught them “as one having authority.” He emphasized the authority by adding, “not as the scribes.” In fact in speaking of authority before the ordinary people, the scribes should have had the most authority. They possessed the widest scope of knowledge and had a high status. Traditionally people respected them highly. For many years it was they who had had the highest authority to preach and interpret the Scriptures.
What was interesting was that in the eyes of the general public who were simple, ordinary people, the scribes, supposedly the authorities, could not compare with Jesus' assuredness. For the ordinary person, it was Jesus' preaching that was authoritative, demanding his listeners' attention and acquiescence. In comparison, the scribes' preaching seemed empty, shallow words with little substance, without spirit or life. It was very much as Confucius had said once, “Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.”(1)
From where did the authority of Jesus' preaching come? First of all, of course, it was because he was the Son of the Almighty God. But Jesus had no halo around his head, nor did the people know he was God. So when they said Jesus' preaching ‘had authority’, it had a different meaning. For myself, I think his authority might well have come from the fact that his preaching went straight to people's hearts, touched their lives and deeply moved them. Chuang Tzu reckoned that “There must be a true human being first then there will be true knowledge.”(2) What he meant was that only a true human person could see through the ways of the world, thoroughly understand current affairs, and so possess true knowledge. Jesus Christ was truly God and truly human. This ‘truly human person’ not only possessed true knowledge, he also showed true love. He not only loved all human persons, he loved the world. He not only could be happy with those who were happy, he could be sad with those who were sad. Moreover, his great love for human beings was cosmic and all embracing. It was natural that a person like that could move people with what he said. Jesus' words certainly flowed from his heart. He not only spoke with his mouth, he spoke with his body, his eye-contact, and with a voice full of love. And he spoke words that were hidden deeply within his heart.
When I was in primary school, our teacher taught us that the secret to writing a good essay was that “a good meaning will not fear for inadequate words.” (3) This means that once you have something important you want say to people, you will not need to worry that you won’t be able to find the appropriate words. On the other hand, if you
only have learned the art of rhetoric, even if you have a beautiful romantic theme, you may have no important message to pass on to others. And so you still would be far from writing an interesting essay.
Jesus is our Savior. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He loves us to the extreme. And he wants us to live as full a life as possible. Therefore it is natural for him to have many, many things he urgently wishes to tell us. How could a person like Jesus not be able to touch peoples' hearts when he speaks? When he spoke, the only ones he saw and thought of were the people before him. It was as St. Augustine said, “God did not need you when He created you, but He needs you in order to save you.” Without our cooperation and response, even Almighty God is unable to save us. Jesus wants to give us salvation, wants to lead us to the right path. How is it possible he would not elicit our cooperation and sympathetic understanding?
Jesus exists for the Father, for the world and for us, his heart rests entirely with us. Therefore, what he speaks are all words of life. He contemplated deeply and exhaustively, strained his heart and mind because he wants us to understand and to be touched, and so help us turn back to God. At that time, what people heard was not only words, but Jesus' great love behind the words. And that exactly was the source of his authority and ability to move his listeners. Even the evil one could not but acknowledge Jesus' uniqueness: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
The preaching of Jesus – and all that is preached in his name – is the testimony of a life of faith. Its source is life and leads to God. It moves believers to obey, non-believers to be more aware, enemies to be filled with amazement and the evil one to flee.