OT IV [B] Dt 18:15-20; I Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28
Antiochus IV, King of Syria, had a great interest in Egypt. He amassed an army and invaded that country in 168 B.C. To his deep humiliation the Romans ordered him home. They did not send an army to oppose him; such was the might of Rome that they did not need to. They sent a senator called Popilius Laena with a small and quite unarmed suite. Popilius and Antiochus met on the boundaries of Egypt. They talked; they both knew Rome and they had been friendly. Then very gently Popilius told Antiochus that Rome did not wish him to proceed with the campaign and wished him to go home. Antiochus said he would consider it. Popilius took the staff he was carrying and drew a circle in the sand round about Antiochus. Quietly he said, "Consider it now; you will give me your decision before you leave that circle." Antiochus thought for a moment and realized that to defy Rome was impossible. "I will go home," he said. It was a shattering humiliation for a king. But that was the power and the authority of the Roman Caesars. (See Daniel 11:29 and following, with the notes).
Authority is a strange thing. A fourteen year-old boy argues about the curfew imposed by his parents. Then the next day in the freshman baseball game, he dutifully lays down a good bunt, forgoing a mighty swing at the fence, because the coach flashed a signal from the bench. Instant obedience to the coach; reluctant submission to mum and dad! On an airliner the captain flashes the seat-belt sign and everybody complies. Four hours later in a rented car, the passenger disregards the seat belt. The irony: for the same distance travelled, the airliner is three times safer.
The common theme of today’s readings is Divine authority exercised by the prophets of the Old Testament in their messages, by the apostles (including St. Paul), in their writings and teaching in the New Testament, and by Jesus in his teaching and healing ministry.
In today’s Gospel, Mark describes one sample Sabbath day of Jesus’ public life. He joins in public worship in the synagogue as a practicing Jew, he heals the sick, he drives out evil spirits -- and he prays privately. Since anyone could be invited to explain the Holy Scripture in synagogue worship, Jesus was invited. People immediately noticed that Jesus spoke with authority and healed with Divine power. The Old Testament prophets had taught using God’s delegated authority, and the scribes and Pharisees taught quoting Moses, the prophets and the great rabbis. But Jesus taught using his own authority and knowledge as God to teach, empower, liberate, and heal others.
A Lutheran professor named David Rhoads points out that in Mark "Jesus wields authority over demons, illnesses (when people have faith), and natural forces (seas, deserts, trees) - nonhuman forces that oppress people. Jesus wields no authority, however, over people. He cannot heal people without faith, make them keep quiet if they wish to speak, or force his disciples to understand his teachings." Jesus has dominion over all aspects of life but not authority to "lord it over" humans - plenty of other religious figures, ancient and contemporary, can do that. Jesus has divine authority to serve people.
There was a local synagogue in every Jewish settlement of more than ten families. The synagogue was a place of instruction and Sabbath prayers. The synagogue service consisted of three parts – prayer, the reading of God's word, and the exposition of it made by anyone who wished to do so. In this chapter Mark tells us that in the local synagogue Jesus taught with authority. This means that Jesus explained the Scriptures with complete confidence, and when questioned by people he answered with authority. Jesus spoke relying on no one beyond himself; he cited no supporting human authorities or experts. Mark also records the impact Jesus had on those who heard him. We are told how amazed people were at the authority with which he preached. Jesus also showed his power and authority by curing the sick and granting forgiveness to people.
Jesus shows that He is the Messiah, the Savior, more powerful than the demons. Jesus came to destroy the unclean spirits living inside of us. That is one of the reasons why Jesus came to earth in the first place and one of the reasons why he continues his presence in our lives. Jesus came to drive out those unclean spirits within us, to wash them away, to cleanse our lives of them. Let us put ourselves under his authority and he will liberate us. The evil spirit in today’s Gospel recognized Jesus as the Messiah and acknowledged him as such. Jesus commanded the evil spirit harshly, using strong words and tones: "Be quiet! Come out of him!" This was one of the reasons why Jesus developed a reputation for speaking with authority. Today, we are challenged to believe that Jesus continues to exercise the power to rout evil in all of its ugly disguises and manifestations, viz., in poverty, sickness, greed, hatred, indifference, over-indulgence, etc., using us and our ministry.
Through Word and Sacrament, Jesus brings that power to us and says the same words to the demons in our life, "Be gone!" -- not just once but as often as we need to hear them, until finally, we are free from these demons entirely. Christ has power over any demon, so whether those demons be addictions, heartaches, secret sins --whatever our chains may be-- Christ can set us free and longs to do so. Let’s ask him to exercise his authority over us today in this sacrament and help us free from the bondages that enslave us.