Sunday, February 1, 2009

A New Teaching, One With Authority!

Today’s First Reading is taken from the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy, the last of the five books known as the Torah, the Law of Moses. The verses just before this reading are a warning from the LORD which Moses spoke to the people: When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving to you, do not imitate the ways of the nations you find there. Don’t consult sorcerers, soothsayers, or fortunetellers; stay away from mediums and spiritualists who pretend to consult the dead. It is because the people of these lands engage in these detestable practices that the LORD your God will drive out these nations, and give their land to you. You, in turn, must be blameless before the LORD your God.

Moses tells the people that a “prophet” will arise from among them. This prophet will speak God’s word to them, to guide them in the way God sets out for them. He will speak, not on his own authority, but only what he has heard from God. Those who don’t listen to the words of the prophet who speaks in God’s name will be called into account by God himself. But someone who pretends to speak in my name, but I have not sent him, and those who call themselves prophets, but speak in the name of other gods, must be silenced – even put to death.

Today’s gospel, and those of the next four Sundays, until the beginning of Lent, shows us Jesus not as priest, not as prophet, but as healer. Today, we find ourselves in Capharnaum, the fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus and his disciples stayed. He enters the synagogue and begins to teach. The people are amazed as his teaching: he speaks with authority, not like their scribes. In the synagogue there is a man “with an unclean spirit”. At the time when Mark and the other evangelists wrote their gospels, physical illness, emotional disturbance and all sorts of irregular behavior were considered to be indications that the person affected was either sinful, or being tormented by evil spirits.

The first one who recognizes Jesus and his authority is – guess who! –the evil spirit. Then there follows a brief private conversation between the spirit and Jesus, one which we are privileged to eavesdrop on. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" Jesus commands the Evil Spirit to be quiet. Jesus is saying: “I know that you know who I AM, but it’s not your place to announce my Name and my mission”.

If you read the gospels, and the lives of the Saints, especially the mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, or Therese de Lisieux, you might notice that the Evil Spirits not only know who Jesus is, but that their mission seems to be trying to convince God’s people that we should be afraid of Him. Jesus is not about to allow the Evil Spirit to identify Him as the Son of God, the Messiah. He prefers, then and now, to allow us to come to awareness and acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior on our own, with the help of divine grace. In the Scripture, the fullness of the revelation is not complete until after Jesus has returned to the Father and the Holy Spirit has come. In fact, it is not fully complete even with the Epistles of Paul, John and James, and the Book of Revelation. The revelation of Jesus Christ in history will continue until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, at the Last Judgment. The revelation of Jesus Christ in my life, and in yours, will continue until the day we see him face-to-face in our Particular Judgment.

By the way, the teachings of Jesus lead to His death on the Cross, and we will be taking more about that during the Lenten season, which will not be long in coming. There is one question that I have echoing in my inner ear that needs to be voiced and answered now, on the first of these four gospels about Jesus and the evil spirits:

If Jesus can lay his hands on someone who’s bothered by an evil spirit, and make the spirit go away, can’t He make the evil spirits who bother me go away, and never come back?

Yes, He can, but it’s probably not going to happen to you and me.

Why not, Father?

Well, if you read the life of the Saints, especially those mystics I mentioned earlier, like Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux or, just to mention two others, Jeanne de Chantal and Faustina Kowalska, you will learn a lesson I first heard when I was in my teens, a lesson I have yet to master. When I was a junior at the Prep School, I asked my spiritual guide, Fr Arthur, why Jesus didn’t make all the evil spirits who bother teenage boys go away and never come back. He told me something I’ve repeated many times over the years whenever I’ve been asked the same question by those who have chosen me as their spiritual guide.

The Tempter is never going to go away. God’s plan includes the mission of the Tempter in your life, and in mine.

But Father, the Tempter is the Enemy, the Evil One!

But God has the power of turning evil to good. You and I are going to live the rest of our lives with “unclean spirits”, mostly from our own fallen nature, but rarely, from the direct influence of the Enemy. It’s like those “instruments of torture” on the walls of the gym.

You mean those weight lifting pulleys?

Yes, those, and the track around the floor of the gym at the upper level, too. The Tempter’s influence in our lives is like the exercise equipment in the gym. Some of them build strength, and some of them build endurance, the two traits you need most if you’re going to be healthy – even if you’re not a champion athlete. And that, young man, works as well for the spiritual and the physical side of life.

So then, Father Arthur, the Tempter is really working in Our Lord’s spiritual exercise program?

Good thought, John L.! I think I’ll borrow that expression, if you don’t mind.

Say a prayer for Father Arthur’s intentions. He left this world for a better one some years ago, but I’m sure he can put your prayers to good use. And pray for me, and for all of us who are workers in Our Lord’s spiritual exercise program. Both as clients, and as staff!

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