Homily for January 28

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Tine
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

There’s no doubting that Jesus lived in simpler times,
and long before science and psychology gave explanations
for unusual human behavior.

You and I might wonder if the man in the synagogue was actually
 “possessed by an unclean spirit”
or if he was pathologically, mentally imbalanced.

Which ever was the case, there’s no doubting that either
Jesus cast out a demon or healed the man of his illness.
In such instances, those around Jesus did not doubt
the authenticity of what he did - they didn’t think it was a trick.
Rather, what puzzled the people there
was the source of Jesus’s power to do what he did:
did it come from God - or from the dark side?

And that’s the turning point in today’s gospel story.
Those who witnessed how the Lord helped this troubled man
begin to believe that Jesus’ power comes from God
and thus “his fame spread everywhere,
throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

I wonder: had we been there - would our response have been the same?
Would we have recognized and welcomed Jesus’ teaching
and his authority over whatever has a hold on us?
What holds us hostage is not likely to be an unclean spirit, a demon,
but the question remains:
do we welcome Jesus’ authority over whatever else it might be
that possesses our hearts, minds and deeds hostage
- and leaves us in need of healing?

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

Certainly religion, the political establishment and our institutions
have given us more than enough reason to question their authority.

But what if any system of checks and balances
do you and I employ or submit to
in order to monitor our own personal authority?

Does anything or anyone serve to warn us
when our personal authority begins to serve not God or a higher good
but instead our own self-interest and weaknesses?
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 radical personal autonomy
and this, often at the expense of the common good
and with serious consequences for the rights of the most vulnerable:
the poor, the marginalized, those not yet born.

So, a few questions to consider…

• What authority do I give Jesus over my own authority?
over my own decisions and choices
- and the processes by which I make them?
• What authority do I give Jesus over whatever possesses me,
that is to say, whatever holds me in its grip?
What authority do I give Jesus over my weaknesses,
my desires, my selfishness, my fears, my laziness,  my anxieties,
over any of the unhealthy habits that often “possess”
my imaginations, our hearts, our minds and our desires?
• What authority do we give to Jesus’ teachings
over our marriages, our family life, how we raise our children?
What authority do we give to Jesus’ teachings
at work and in the world of our finances?
• What authority do I give Jesus over my ministry
and over how I pastor this 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 a sea change in the cultural climate is a given
and that reality has only been exacerbated by any ways
in which the Church has compromised it’s own authority
through its words and deeds, through its silence and passivity.

We need take care not to miss the importance of the venue
in today’s gospel.
It’s in the synagogue,  in the house of prayer where the rabbis teach,
it’s in the place of worship 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 it, challenged it and expanded it.

• So perhaps the first question we may need to ask is this:
will you and I submit to any authority greater than our own?
• How can you and I work to balance the value of personal authority
with the value of an authority greater than our own?
• What authority, whose 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 here, this morning
and speaks to us in the scriptures
and he joins us at the altar where, in the Eucharist,
we acknowledge him to be 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 the altar.

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


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