Tuesday, January 13, 2009

He Taught With Authority, Not Like The Scribes

In Israel, there was only one Temple, and it was in Jerusalem. In other cities and towns, the people would gather to celebrate the Sabbath in synagogues. The people of Capharnaum would have come there on the seventh day of every week, to listen to the scriptures, and to be taught by the rabbi, or by the scribes. They would listen to readings from the Law of Moses, and from the prophets. Every week, the scroll would be rolled a bit further, and read from wherever they had stopped the previous week.

This Sabbath day was different from all others. The carpenter from Nazareth rose to speak, and the people of Capharnaum were surprised. Jesus spoke with authority, not like their scribes. Unfortunately, the problem is not unique to that fishing village on the shore of the Lake Gennesareth, when Jesus chose four Galilaean fishermen to be the first of his followers.

In that synagogue, there was a man who was possessed by 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! Jesus scolded the spirit, and said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The unclean spirit threw the man into a convulsion, and with a loud cry, came out of him.

If the people in the synagogue had been impressed by the authority with which Jesus spoke about the scripture of that day, they were astonished now. They kept asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching, one with authority. He commands evil spirits, and they obey him.” His fame began to spread throughout the whole region of Galilee.

As I think about what happened that Saturday morning at the synagogue in Capharnaum, I wonder who was in the greater need of exorcism. Was it the man whom Jesus freed? Or was it the scribes, who read the Scriptures, but did not live them?

In our day, there are preachers and teachers who speak with no authority, like the scribes in Capharnaum. They speak eloquently, but their teaching is without substance. They quote the scriptures eloquently, but they have no idea what they mean. They cannot challenge the people to greater virtue, because they are not virtuous themselves.

As I reflected on today’s scripture, I began to understand that you and I are influenced, if not possessed, by demons. If I preach like the scribes, mere words, without substance, I am “possessed” by a spirit of sloth (laziness, if you prefer).
 If I speak the word of God, but I make no effort to “practice what I preach”, I am “possessed” by a spirit of hypocrisy. But that is only the summit of a long slope downward. Eventually, if I become complacent, I run the risk of having my presumption to be transformed into despair, and I will become convinced that I am not “influenced” or “possessed” by the evil one, but that I am evil, myself. But that is not, and cannot be true. You and I are creatures of God, and all that God creates is good, because He is good. “God doesn’t make junk!”

So then, our struggle against the Evil One will continue until the end of our natural life, and we cannot be discouraged by our weaknesses. Success does not consist in becoming perfect. Only God is perfect. Success in spiritual growth consists in being better, with the help of God’s grace, today than we were yesterday. And I will not say, being better tomorrow than we are today, for by the time it gets here, it will be today.

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