Rev. Deacon Ken Boccino Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, the 31st of January 2021
“They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)
“They were all amazed and they kept asking each other, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority?” (Mark 1:27)
Good morning. In looking through the Scripture readings today, these 2 verses
caught my attention. From my recollection, it's not very often that we see the same
word used so closely together in the Bible. It “called” me to want to dig in a little more to see what Mark was trying to say here.
Before getting deeper into today's Gospel reading, I thought it might be helpful
for us to remember that the Gospel readings for the past few weeks are from early on
in Jesus' ministry with a focus on the Gospel of Mark. Early in January, we heard the
beginning of the Mark's Gospel which start with the story of John the Baptist. Last
week, the text continued with the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John.
From these accounts in Mark, it appears that Jesus began his teaching in Galilee, about 100 miles from his hometown of Nazareth. This week we learn of Jesus' traveling to the town of Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Here according to Mark, he performs his first “public” miracle/act – cleansing a man of an unclean spirit, the spirit knowing both by name and mission. By virtue of this cleansing act, the demon's knowledge of Jesus and the impact of his teaching I think it is safe to say that the local's had not seen the anyone like Jesus in those parts. There are so many words that could have been used by the the folks in Capernaum, but Mark chose the word “authority” and reinforces that by using it twice in this passage. And even more interesting, the use of the word “authority” is not used to describe the removal of the unclean spirit, but focuses on Jesus' teaching. It seems here that Jesus' words, a “new teaching”, left more of an impact on the people of Galilee.
So what is this “sense of authority” that is described here?
The word “authority” can have a number of different definitions and meanings,
but I was interested in limiting my focus in how it might be used in the context of the Bible and particularly the New Testament. After some research, I discovered an article written in 2003 by Arland Hultgren which was helpful and concise. Mr. Hultgren is a New Testament Scholar and Professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. He describes three types of “ideal authority” which is demonstrated in the New Testament. These include:
•The traditionalist type, whose grounding is in the "elder" (prince, patron, etc.) of
a social unit, who maintains what has been.
• The charismatic type, in which an extraordinary person (prophet, leader) acts
with inspiration and conviction, gathering a following.
• The third is the legal type, which is administered by bureaucratic structures, and
that is typical of modern societies, with the three of these types manifest at
different times and places in Scripture.
For me, it seems clear that Jesus acted with “charismatic authority”, teaching in
parables of what is to come and what is to be, in contrast to the scribes, whose role it
was to act and lead solely through interpretation of Jewish law and who followed a
more legal sense of authority. Based on what heard and seen in the synagogue, the
people of Capernaum took Jesus' teaching as being credible and reason for his name to be spread throughout Galilee and surrounding regions.
What made this sense of authority so “special”? Jesus' primary mode of preaching and teaching was through Parables, a simple story with a deep and powerful meaning. He did not focus on the intricacies of Jewish law which had bee the “way to live” for centuries, which focused on diligence and obedience as a way to attain
salvation. The impact of his teaching addressed a radically “new law” or way of living
which was one of love and forgiveness. His acts were what caught peoples' attention,
but that was not the focus – it was his teaching. Words powerful enough to draw
crowds and with so much impact to start a totally new movement where Jewish Law
was not the focus but love, forgiveness and salvation were the prime forces.
Throughout his life Jesus shared this “authority” with others. After assembling
his 12 disciples, and before he sent them out “two by two”, he gave them authority
over impure spirits (Mark 6 – the commissioning of the 12). Very late in Jesus' ministry, after his Resurrection before leaving his friends for the final time, he once again shares the authority that God bestowed on him with his now 11 disciples and commands them to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. I am with you always, to the close of the age (excerpts from Matthew 28:16-20).
By virtue of Christ's suffering, crucifixion and resurrection, and living as Christians in community I'd like you to consider that we are also invited to share as active participants in Jesus' authority and teaching. While we might not be able to command unclean spirits, walk on water, or calm the winds, we can all have an amazing positive impact on the world walking a similar path of the disciples over the ages.
The original disciples were given special gifts to help Jesus solidify his ministry.
As time passed, other disciples have walked and continue to walk along side of Jesus
Christ though living out Jesus' Great Commandment that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30 –31). They used their gifts and talents given to them to build up Christ's church to create a community of sharing, love, charity and compassion much like the legacy created by the founders of The Church of the Saviour and what we do as we faithfully move our way through the pandemic and focus on our 4 year Plan of Faith through prayer, community, justice and joy.
My friends, we are called to live into Christ's new teachings and live into them
with the authority that Christ demonstrated through his 33 year ministry and shared
with his disciples and followers. We are reminded every Sunday on how we are asked to model and carry out our lives in love with grace and in service through our
“thoughts, words and deeds” and “not only with our lips, but in our lives.”