Here is an authoritative word - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Here is an authoritative word - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

This account of the Lord being invited to speak in the synagogue in Capernaum offers us a valuable insight into the preaching of Jesus.

It was not unusual among the Jews of Jesus’ time to have a visitor invited to address the synagogue assembly on the Sabbath. The synagogue service was made up of the elements of our Liturgy of the Word at Mass. Its focus was on readings of the Scriptures, preaching, and prayers.

We can recall the account of Jesus going to the synagogue in Nazareth. We are told by St Luke that he was handed the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. We are then told that he sought out a particular passage and read it. Once he had finished reading, we are told he sat down. The people in the synagogue turned towards him expectantly, assuming that he would offer comment on the text. And this is what Jesus did – he addressed the assembly stating that this text is now being fulfilled.

A similar thing would have happened in the account we read today of Jesus going to the synagogue in Capernaum. He was invited to speak. St Mark records that his teaching made a deep impression on them. A similar thing happened in Nazareth. The comment was made, “Where did he get all this?”

Jesus preached and taught in a manner that surprised people. St Mark mentions today that his preaching and teaching was compared with the way in which the scribes taught. In comparison with these trained teachers of the Law, we are told that Jesus spoke with authority. They offered opinion, Jesus spoke the truth with striking and convincing clarity.

What was this authority? Was it oratorical skill? Was it impressive knowledge? Was it the power of his personality?

No doubt, these elements were present. However, my sense is that when the Lord preached there was a clear presentation of truth that engaged his listeners.

Jesus did not just have opinion or insight. His preaching and teaching penetrated to the heart. When people heard him they felt that his words spoke to the depths of their being. He spoke the truth about the nature of human life. His words immediately resonated with his listeners.

In the Letter to the Hebrews there is a description of the Word of God in these terms: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

One imagines that this was the experience of those to whom Jesus preached. It was a word that cut to the heart. One was convicted by what was being said.

This was more than just some good ideas, or interesting insights. This was a word that captured the heart and moved the person. This was a word that could not be ignored.

Thus, it is not hard to understand that as his public ministry went on, Jesus attracted larger and larger crowds eager to listen to him.

The incident that follows in the Gospel today is also significant as the people link his power to drive out a demon with his authority in preaching. The comment was made: “Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it; he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.”

We live in a world of constant chatter. The media is awash with opinion. Talk-back radio is all the rage. Celebrity commentators have TV shows. There are panel shows on contemporary topics. There are audience participation discussions on issues of the moment. A myriad of ideas, attitudes, views and values flood our senses. They all influence our own views. We find ourselves agreeing with one position and rejecting another. Sometimes we find ourselves becoming angry at what some people express. We become caught up in the debates swirling around us.

In the midst of all this chatter there is a key source, a final source, of enduring truth. It is to be found in the teaching of Christ. It is to be found in the Gospels. It comes from the mouth of Jesus. It is found in the Sacred Scriptures as the Word of God.

This is not just opinion but authoritative truth. This should be the place we go to in order to find what is actually lasting amid the currents of opinion.

We cannot be true Christians if we are not being attentive to the Word of God on a daily basis. We need to ensure that our minds are being formed firstly by eternal truth and enduring wisdom. We all need a firm foundation upon which to build our lives. That foundation is Christ.

In the teaching of Christ, in the Sacred Scriptures, there is the revelation of eternal truth. We need to ensure that our minds are daily washed with this truth, cleansing our minds of falsehood, of mere human ways of seeing things.

The people in the synagogue in Capernaum were spellbound as Jesus spoke. He spoke in a way that they had not previously experienced. They knew that there was convicting truth in his words.

We need to sit at the Master’s feet as his true disciples. We need to allow our cluttered minds to hear the pure message of the Gospel. We need to bring an eternal perspective to our thinking.

Because, as the people in that synagogue realised, “Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous