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January, 26 2015

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Rev. Tom Mannebach

Mk 1:21-28

Today is the high, holy day of the sports world. Hundreds of millions of  people tuned into a single football game.  And except for football fans in Seattle and New England, a single football game is not the point. It’s not the reason people will be watching. The reason they will watch is the event. The “Big Game” will be super because of the event it has become. The event goes beyond the game. Yes, it includes pre-game hype, half-time musical antics, and all the guacamole that goes with it. But the key ingredient of this event will be the unveiling of the “super commercials.”  Like new cars off the assembly line, they roll out into public view for the first time. Strange but true, commercials will be the main reason why so many viewers will be glued to their t.v. screens this evening.

It doesn’t stop there. We can be all but certain how many of these super commercials will feature celebrities. It could be television and movie celebrities. Could be sports celebrities. Or it might be a famous figure from the past. No secret here, but advertisers are keen on having recognizable names and faces surrounding their products. (In fact, some celebrities have made second careers in the advertising world.) Advertisers know the way celebrity confers status. In using celebrity, they know how their product will gain a credibility it wouldn’t otherwise have. Celebrity carries influence. And where there’s influence, there’s authority. It seems that Madison Avenue understands what the average television viewer doesn’t: When it comes to our purchasing habits, we are moved and influenced more than we think. 

In Mark’s gospel, we hear that Jesus teaches with authority, but not like the scribes. Question: How could people find authority in his teaching? Jesus was no celebrity, although he was drawing more and more attention. He had no official or public power as a king or emperor would. He had no academic degrees or educational credentials to speak of. Yet we’re told that his teaching in the synagogue was received as one who has authority. So where did the authority come from? Maybe it was his manner of speaking. Maybe he spoke plainly, sincerely, and intelligently. Maybe he was a great communicator. Even still, could that alone account for his authority in the estimation of his listeners?

Mark never tells us exactly why Jesus was received with such authority by so many. It’s as though Mark wants us to think about the meaning of the word. Apparently for Mark, authority doesn’t come with title, position or celebrity. Nor does it come from educational achievement. For Mark, authority seems to come from the person you are. In recognizing the authority of Jesus, the people are recognizing a different authority. They are recognizing the authority of God through the words and actions of Jesus. He’s not teaching someone else’s teaching. Nor is he acting on someone else’s behalf. He is teaching and acting on his own authority. In reality, Jesus is unveiling God authorship of all creation. 

Nobody else has that authority. No poet, prophet or priest can claim their own authority in teaching the life of faith.  Clearly, the only one who teaches on his own authority is Christ. Yes, the Church teaches with authority, but only on the authority that Christ shares with it—never on its own. And then there are the miracles. The miracles of Jesus are intended not so much to prove his authority but to reveal it. Jesus seems not too overly concerned with overwhelming his listeners with awesome displays. His miracles have nothing to do empty exercises of divine showmanship. Rather, they are signs and manifestations of a new kingdom. To be sure, this new kingdom of God is no kingdom-by-force. Instead, it is a kingdom of reconciliation and healing, of justice and peace. With the in-breaking of this kingdom, the word of God holds sway against all the forces that would seek to undermine it. With this new kingdom, a new and final chapter in the history of salvation is coming to term.  The God who says, “Let there be light” has the last word. The God who says to demons, “Be silent, come out of him” has the last word.

 (At this point, the preacher could offer illustrations of how the people and their ministries in their local parish exercise the authority of Christ for the well-being of the local community and beyond)

At this liturgy, the Prayer over the Offerings speaks of the “offerings of our service” brought before God. The bread and wine brought to this altar represent this service. But the meaning of these gifts is not limited to our efforts at Christian discipleship. They are not confined to the work of our lives. Rather, they point toward the authority of the High-Priest Christ in his service to God in the Holy Spirit. It is only through the authority of Christ in his self-offering love that our work can become God’s work. It is only through the authority of Christ that we can be said to be sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters to one another.

 (C) Tom Mannebach

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