Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scripture Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle B
(Dt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28)

Today’s gospel is interesting because it shows us a typical day for Jesus. It shows something of the When & Way that Jesus preached in the first stage of His public ministry before the hostility of some influential leaders and the vast crowds forced a change.

WHERE: Jesus did not preach in the Temple in Jerusalem which was THE place of worship and the only place where the Jewish priests offered sacrifice. Jesus preached in the Synagogues which were numerous since any place with 10 or more Jewish families had to have one. The Synagogue was a place of teaching and a Catechetical Center. Usually it did not have a permanent teacher. The ruler or director of the Synagogue would simply call upon any competent male to give a teaching. Once Jesus became known as a Man with a message He could enter any synagogue confident that it would provide Him with a place to instruct and inspire the people.

THE WAY: Jesus did not teach as the Pharisees and Scribes and so He was a breath of fresh air. The experts were men who delighted to pour over the Sacred texts of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) to find a direction and guidance for all of life. Don’t think of them as wrinkled old fellows but more like Teveya, the Jewish farmer in The Fiddler on the Roof. ...who prayed to God to strike it rich so he could spend all day with the Scriptures, learning and disputing about their meaning. The ideal of the Scribe was to try to know all that the old masters had taught about a text,….. not giving his own opinion but rather that of the ancient masters. So it was: ”There is an opinion that says......” and “On the other hand there is another opinion which says.....” They could get so bound up by all these precedents and viewpoints that they were hesitant to teach anything as definite or even give their own opinion! Jesus was so different. He spoke definitely and independently. He quoted no experts, no other authority. Unlike even the Prophets He did not begin with “The Lord told me……or …The Lord revealed this to me”. Jesus spoke with the Voice of God “It was said/written….but I tell you ….”…..and it amazed and captivated the people. It was the terrific certainty of a Man who had been there.......who knew what He was talking about from experience, who radiated the All Holy One of Israel Who had sent Him. Not only in teaching but in goodness and holiness He could confront evil and drive it away. Preaching to the ordinary people, expelling demons and evil, healing the sick ........These were some of the signs of the Messianic Age and so Christ aroused a great hope within the people.

As a newly ordained priest assigned to our Novitiate in Pennsylvania, I was dragooned by one of our priests, who was a recovering alcoholic to attend some AA meetings. I must tell you that he had not been my favorite as a young cleric. He was OK until he got drunk….and he was a MEAN drunk. But he really had changed and was a wonderful friend. So I reluctantly went because of him….and I found there men and women speaking of their lives, their failures and the pain they had caused themselves and their loved ones so often. Their stories often exemplified the virtues of truth, humility and compassion that I had read about in spiritual books. The difference was they made them come alive........because they spoke from experience and it was often deeply moving. And it was thus that Jesus spoke ....... not from books but from His own experience of the Father.

There is a famous little book about St. Francis and his first companions called the Fioretti or Little Flowers of St. Francis. This book of lovely stories was read in the small houses of the friars to teach them in a very simple and practical way how to be like St. to be Franciscans. When I was a young friar we still used to read it in the refectory during meals. One of the stories tells how St. Francis and a new enthusiastic brother were coming into a town. Francis had advised the brother to pray and meditate because they were going to preach to the people when they got there. The two friars walked through the town greeting the people, stopping by the church for a visit, going to the marketplace , talking to the vendors and accepting their charity, ....Francis listening to problems and promising his prayers. And they went on their way. Outside the town, the brother disappointedly said: “Brother Francis, you forgot that we were supposed to preach to the people”. And St. Francis smiled and said....”But we did”.

That’s an important point which you should never forget. The priests and deacons officially preach in Church and there is a solemn responsibility to prepare and do the best we can. But often time our best efforts remain only words, or as my classmate used to say “Homilies are written with water”.....and you....and even the preacher....will forget them. But deeds are seldom forgotten and they do speak much louder than words! And in imitation of Jesus whose deeds of compassion gave authority to His preaching, they are what every follower of Christ is called to show. So, really every one of us “preaches” out of his own experience when we are sent from here in the Name of Christ. The question to think about this Sunday is: What or Whom are we preaching???

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.