The synagogue was the place where the Jews gathered to listen to the reading of Scripture, explained by the teachers of Israel, and they gathered there to pray.
At the end of their gathering, any adult Jewish male also was allowed to speak to comment on the readings that had been heard. Jesus, who wasn’t a priest, nor a specialist in the law of Moses, stood up, went forward, and spoke. The gospel doesn’t tell us what he said or what he spoke about. What stands out is the impact of his words: The people “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22).
People perceive something in Jesus that they don’t find in their religious teachers. When Jesus speaks, it’s obvious that something is different. The scribes knew the sacred texts well, they commented on them in the light of tradition, they quoted illustrious teachers of the past, and they discussed these texts among themselves.
When Jesus comes forward to speak in the synagogue he doesn’t simply comment on what has been said in the past: he doesn’t quote any author and he doesn’t speak on behalf of any religious institution, either.
Jesus’ words emerged from the intimacy of his innermost being. They were words forged in silence and worship. Jesus listened at length to the Father in prayer and his words resounded as if they came from the very heart of God.
“When Jesus speaks, it’s obvious that something is different.” Bishop @silviojbaez #GospelTweet
Jesus is the Prophet of the end times, of whom the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy speaks today (cf. Deut 18:15-20). In Jesus what God promised to Moses is fully accomplished: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command” (Dt 18:18). Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. He is the Prophet, the Word of God made man. Therefore, Jesus speaks with divine authority and his words are filled with the Spirit of God. His words are “spirit and life” (Jn 6:63).
Jesus’ word resonates with “authority” not only because it comes from God, but also because he is someone who is “credible”. Jesus not only speaks with passion and conviction, but he demonstrates by his life what his words express. Jesus not only believes what he says, but he also lives what he believes and expresses it in his actions and behavior.
“The integrity of life gives value to words. It isn’t enough to be a believer, we also have to be credible.” Bishop @silviojbaez #GospelTweet
If we live what we say and preach, others will perceive our speech as authentic and will welcome our words more readily. It isn’t enough to be a believer, we also have to be credible. Today our society is looking for people who demonstrate what they say by the way they live. Speeches that captivate with their rhetoric and their fancy language are of no use whatsoever if they aren’t accompanied by the testimony of a transparent, honest, and committed life for the good of others.
Jesus speaks with “authority”, not with “authoritarianism”. Whoever speaks with authority captivates, convinces, and touches the heart; whoever speaks with authoritarianism humiliates, deceives, and subdues the other person. Jesus speaks with authority, but not from a position of power. Jesus never used power to assert himself, to convince, or to make himself heard.
Our society needs speech that is free from the seduction of power. It’s easy to detect speech that is born out of the ambition for power. This is usually ‘hate speech’ that disqualifies and offends, that tries to impose the will of the bully, that seeks to control people and deceive in order to subdue. Words spoken with moral authority, on the other hand, tell the truth, instill confidence, liberate, and serve to dignify people.
“Jesus’ words flowed from the love he felt for the people. His language was a reflection of his heart, filled with compassion and mercy.” Bishop @silviojbaez #GospelTweet
Jesus speaks with “authority” because his words do good to those who listen to him. The people in the synagogue listened to him with pleasure; they felt enlightened and comforted. Jesus wasn’t someone who seduced with bombastic and erudite words. Jesus’ words flowed from the love he felt for the people. His language was a reflection of his heart, filled with compassion and mercy.
One day Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34). It’s easy to notice when someone speaks without feeling, without heart, without love for others. We also notice when someone speaks to us with love, for our own good. We’re grateful for the warm and welcoming words that make our lives more bearable—words that give us hope.
If our words don’t flow from love for others, we had better bite our tongues. If our words aren’t full of respect and esteem for people, it’s better to remain silent. If our words aren’t going to do good to others, it’s better not to speak. It’s love that gives value and strength to words. St. Paul says that “if I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). When our words don’t come from a loving heart, we do harm to our brothers and sisters, we ruin relationships, and we help to create an atmosphere of suspicion and fear.
In our society we need to have a new manner of speaking, without hatred and lies; speech that is distinguished not so much by its theoretical content or its rhetorical elegance; speech that springs from compassion and solidarity.
- How badly we need leaders who are free of selfishness, ambition, and bureaucracy—who feel the pain of the people and who know how to listen!
- There’s an urgent need for leaders who speak to the people with truth, affection, and respect—who generate hope with their words.
- There’s an urgent need for leaders who not only speak but who spend their lives dedicated to working for the common good of society—without selfishness or personal ambitions.
People were amazed at the way Jesus spoke because his word was effective in bringing about good and provoking extraordinary transformations in people: “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him’” (Mk 1:27). Jesus’ word did good to people, freed them from evil, and gave them dignity.
On that Sabbath in Capernaum, a man was in the synagogue who was “possessed by an unclean spirit”; that is, he was dominated by evil, enslaved, and prevented from being himself and living life to the fullest. He was in the synagogue, the place of prayer and listening to Scripture.
There are no places that automatically make us good or bad. We can frequent religious places and still experience life dominated by an unclean spirit that destroys us; we can carry within us a distant heart that doesn’t allow itself to be reached by God.
The scribes in the synagogue didn’t know that the man was there, neither were they able to heal him with their religious teachings. Only the presence of Jesus exposed the evil; it was his word that healed and freed the man who was possessed.
The authority of Jesus’ word is confirmed and reaches its highest dimension when he frees that man from the evil that dominated him and gives him back the dignity he had lost.
“Our inner wounds, our weaknesses, our sins, and fears don’t go unnoticed by Jesus. He wants us to be healthy and free.” Bishop @silviojbaez #GospelTweet
With the authority of his word, he wants to free us from the inhuman and worldly spirits that diminish and destroy us. In this Eucharist, let’s ask Jesus for his love and his word to remove all evil from our hearts and to grant us inner serenity and abundant hope for life.
Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Managua
Homily, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
31 January 2021
Translation from the Spanish text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre) and The Possessed Man in the Synagogue (Le possédé dans la Synagogue) are artworks by James Tissot (French, 1836–1902). Both works are opaque watercolors over graphite on gray wove paper created between 1886 and 1894. They come from the collections of the Brooklyn Museum (no known copyright restrictions).