Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image by Redkid

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1: 21-28

Jesus, a young rabbi from Nazareth,
stands up in the synagogue at Capernaum to speak and teach -
and then casts out an unclean spirit in a possessed man.
“What is this?” the synagogue members ask.
And they answer their own question:
“A new teaching – with authority!”

Had we been there would our response have been the same?
Would we have recognized and welcomed
the authority of Jesus’ teaching
and his authority over whatever has a hold on us:
perhaps not an unclean spirit, but whatever it might be
that holds our hearts hostage and in need of healing?

We live in a time, in a culture often suspicious of any authority
beyond the personal authority of the self.
Over the past 50 years, we’ve moved from
upholding and respecting institutional authority as beyond questioning
towards a reverence of the self
as the primary arbiter of truth and morality.

The authority of a social order based on love of God, nation and family,
(rooted in church, patriotism and tradition)
has largely given way to a society struggling to defend
every individual’s supposed right to personal autonomy and authority -
and this is often at the expense of the common good
and with serious consequences for the rights of the most vulnerable.

But rather than wonder how we might have responded
to the authority of Jesus’ new teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum
we might look at how we respond to the authority of Jesus’ teaching
newly announced, every week, here in our church in Concord center.

So, a few questions to ponder…

• What authority do we give Jesus over our own authority?
over our own decisions and choices?

• What authority do we give Jesus over what takes hold of us:
the weaknesses, desires and habits that possess our hearts?

• What authority do we give to Jesus teachings over our marriages?
our ministry? our families? how we raise our children?
how we pastor a parish?

• What authority do we give to Jesus’ teachings
over how we exercise our individual rights as citizens
and our participation in our nation’s democratic process?

• What authority do we give Jesus over our possessions:
over how we get what we have? how we use what we have?
how we share what we have?

There are many such questions for us to ask
and not the least of them would be a question
about the authority of the Church in our lives.
Catholic Christians acknowledge the authority of Jesus
not only in the scriptures and in a personal relationship with him
but also through the communion of the Church, Christ’s body,
and through the teachings of the Church.

That the strength of the Church’s authority has suffered
from the sea change in the cultural climate is a given
and that has only been exacerbated
by any ways in which the Church has compromised it’s own authority
through its words and deeds.

But let us not miss the importance of the scene in today’s gospel.
It’s in the synagogue, in the house of prayer where the rabbis teach,
that the authority of Jesus is revealed, recognized and received.

Yes, Jesus preached by the seashore and on hillsides
but his authority did not estrange itself from his own religious institution
which was not without its problems and divisions.
Jesus did not ignore the religious authority of his time:
he engaged and challenged it.

But this is not 1st century Capernaum: this is 21st century Concord.

The first question we may need to ask is this:
will you and I submit to an authority greater than our own?

How can you and I work to balance the value of personal authority
with an authority greater than our own?

What authority do you and I recognize, respect and reverence?

Will we invite the teaching of Jesus, and of his Church:
- to speak with authority to our hearts and minds?
- to have authority over realities that hold us hostage
to ideology, to creature comfort, to the self?

As surely as Jesus stood up in the synagogue at Capernaum,
he stands among us and speaks to us in the scriptures
and joins us at the altar where, in the Eucharist,
we acknowledge him as the Holy One of God.

Through the power of his Spirit
and with the authority of the Cross,
the authority of his sacrificial love,
Jesus is revealed and reverenced in the bread and cup of our table.

May the Holy One we receive here
have authority over our minds and hearts
and make us one with his body, the Church.



  1. At the beginning of this entry, you ask how we would have responded to Jesus if we had been there. That is a question I have often pondered at various points in the liturgical year. I often identify with Peter when he denies knowing Jesus three times. I suspect that I would have done the same thing. I'm quite certain I would not have risked the consequences of being identified as a follower of someone who was about to be crucified. Does that make me a less than sincere Christian? I am never sure.

    I am not sure where I stand on the issue of authority either, particulary when it concerns the Church. I have always made sure that I do nothing unlawful(short of driving a few miles over the speed limit.)Yet at the same time, I am definitely upset when anyone or any group tells me what I should believe. I have always felt that I should be presented with the facts and allowed to consider them and form my own opinion. The Church does not always do this. While I recognize their authority in principle, in practice, it usually rubs me the wrong way.

  2. MaryR: Might we conclude then that you are among those who claim the self as the ultimate authority?

  3. Concord Pastor,
    No I do not think that I consider myself the ultimate authority. I think, however, that those who exercise authority have an obligation to educate, explain and allow discussion. Whereas I am willing to accept the Church's authority on questions of theology and belief, when that extends to telling us to vote based on a single issue, I consider that something that should be open to consideration. (In our diocese during the past election, we were pretty much condemned for voting for anyone other than a Republican.) I also find that the Church often uses its authority without adequate knowledge. This is a minor issue, perhaps, but I think that the issue of how best to translate the original Latin into English is based on little understanding of American English and idiom. I still remember the mirth that the exact translation of Ite, missa est and the response, Deo Gratias, struck me as a teenager when it was translated literally. The parish priest, by the way, was unable to see any humor.

    Do I perhaps rely on my own reason more than I should? I don't know, but I do think more time should be spent educating me and my fellow Catholics (and helping us form our consciences) and less time spent telling us what to do and believe.

  4. Pastor,
    I do not think that I consider myself the ultimate authority, at least not in all areas. I guess my problem is with authority that is not explained or based on reason. I have no problem with the Church telling me what to believe. However, I have a problem when it tells me what my response to those beliefs should be. I agree that abortion is a grievous ill in the world, but I also believe that voting for a candidate based solely on his or her viewpoint on abortion is wrong. I can cite innumerable ways in which human life is diminished and destroyed as the result of the political policies and laws passed by both sides. Yet our diocese has no problem telling us how sinful we are if we vote for anyone other than the Republicans in our area.

    I would have a lot more respect for the authority of the Church if it concentrated its efforts on educating us on the issues, allowing for open discussion, and helping us form our own consciences.

  5. Mary R, it sounds to me as if the lay persons in your diocese need to have a frank discussion with your bishop. From what you have said it appears that he is overstepping his bounds and perhaps could be endangering the tax exempt status of your diocese. If he doesn't wish to engage in a conversation and continues to behave as he has, you might want the attorney general of your state to investigate the matter of separation of church and state in regards to politics.

  6. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

  7. Has anyone read The Shack by William P. Young? I just finished it and it really touched on giving your trust to the Holy trinity (God, Jesus, & the Holy Spirit) and being less independent and more dependent on God. Something that is hard for me to do, but I am trying to open up to God more when it comes to my children and asking for guidance and patience for me and presence in their lives.


  8. "Anonymous" - I'd be interested in knowing what in my homily occasioned your comment.

  9. Teacher: I've read The Shack and found it to be an amazingly good book. It's not that I don't have come critique of it -- I do -- but it's presentation of the Trinity and the way it treats the question of suffering contains much wisdom.

  10. I think it is sometimes hard for people to look to the church as the authority, given the past history of betrayal from pedophile priests whom most us, back then, looked up to, trusted, and respected. I think it is healthier today for us NOT to give the sole authority to the church and to question decisions from those "in charge".

  11. I am sad to say that I sometimes find a difference between the teachings of Jesus and the actions of the hierarchy. I say the hierarchy to make a distinction between the Church (the entire people of God) and its leaders.

    I have posted here many times about the handling of the sexual abuse crisis by the bishops and that is by far the greatest sin (failure in leadership). But there are many others (especially the decision in the RCAB by Catholic Charities to get out of the adoption business) that have turned my focus away from the bishops and cardinals and back to the source, Jesus. I ask myself, "what is God's will?" as opposed to "what is the teaching of the Church?"

    I once heard a sermon where the priest said, "If we focus on the Church, we can lose sight of Jesus. We can never lose sight of Jesus."

    I have faith in God. The actions of the leaders of the church have caused me to lose faith in them. For me, they have lost their moral authority.


Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!