Weekly Gospel Reflection — Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You’re the holy one from G‑d.”
“Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.
Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.
Following The Way of Jesus should impact every area of our lives. There shouldn’t be a difference between “sacred” and “secular.” There should only be The Way.
To often, though, especially in today’s world, things are separated into different spaces. For example, at work, one’s not to talk about “religion or politics.” In some families, this is especially true! Another one is, “Don’t bring work home with you.” What that means is your “work life” is your “work life” and your “home life” is your “home life.” And while I get the basic idea, they’re really false boundaries. Your religious and political views shape you as a human being. The things that happen at work affect your mood and, therefore, they affect how you may react to your family once you get home. And that works the other way around, too. Something tragic happens at home and it will certainly impact your “work life.”
What we’re really saying when we make the above statements is that expressing one’s views or opinions will most likely make other uncomfortable (at the least) or cause a huge argument or lead to a violent outburst (at the worst). Therefore, it’s better not to say anything at all. In other words, people don’t want to be confronted with different views or opposing ideas. They want to continue on thinking that their way of seeing the world is “right” and other ways of seeing the world are “wrong.”
But that’s not reality. People aren’t made up like a computer application where this app only does this thing and that app only does that thing. People are more like the operating system (the OS). The OS is the underlying software that allows these (sometimes) diametrically opposing apps to run smoothly and side by side without any issues (I could make a jab at my least favorite OS here, but I won’t. For that, see my other posts.).
In other words, people are integrated. Like I said above, our beliefs shape our actions — whether they’re political or religious beliefs. I think one would be hard pressed to find a Democrat who opposed women’s rights or a Republican who was against the ownership and use of firearms (before I get nasty comments, I’m not saying those people don’t exist, but, in my neck of the woods, those people are pretty rare).
So, our lives are more complicated and integrated than post-Enlightenment society would want us to believe. I think it’s just this type of thing that’s meant by Jesus’ teaching has authority in today’s Gospel reading.
A lot of the religious tradition of Jesus’ time were about appearances and not so much about real life and how it works. There’s a classic story that illustrates just this point. In John 5.1-18, Jesus heals a lame person and tells him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man does just that. He gathers his things and heads home. But this took place on the Sabbath and there were laws that prohibited that type of behavior. So the man is accosted by the religious authorities and questioned about his breaking of the law. In other words, they were “religious” without any positive connection to the real world. The religious theories about what’s lawful and what’s not may be great in seminary, but in the “real world,” some things just don’t work like that.
I remember when my brother-in-law returned from seminary. He told me, “I don’t know how to talk to people anymore.” What he meant by that was, before he “went in,” he was a street preacher. He did mission work in the ghettos of the world. But now? He didn’t know how to even talk to those people. There was no connection between academia and the average person.
But here comes Jesus teaching with authority. The things Jesus talks about deal with this life as well as the next life. His teachings and actions are not solely about “what happens when you die,” but about the here-and-now, too. Jesus is about balance and presence. He’s not teaching some great philosophical ideals — they have practical uses. “Do you want to know what the Realm of G‑d is like?” he asks. “It’s not about ‘going to heaven when you die.’ It’s about this…” And he heals the possessed man. That’s a very scary thing! It instantly questions the religious authorities of the day and their power. It brings into question their whole religious institutional business. In short, the appearance of Jesus changes everything.
May G‑d grant us the wisdom of seeing the world in this way. Of knowing that our religious views impact our lives and the lives of others in deeply profound ways. May we seek courage to reexamine our faith and its impact on ourselves, our neighbors, and creation.
Let me end this post with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that we use in preparation for the Prayers of the People in Grace Garden’s Common Prayer:
“Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion, let’s fill our hearts with our own compassion — toward others and towards all living beings. Let’s pray that all living things realize that they’re all brothers and sisters, all nourished from the same Source of life. Let’s pray that we ourselves cease to be the cause of suffering to each other. Let’s plead with ourselves to live in a way which won’t deprive others of air, food, shelter, or a chance to live. With humility, with awareness of the existence of life, and of the sufferings that are going on around us, let’s pray for the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.”
Thich Nhat Hanh (amended)
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC