Epiphany 4: Mark 1:21-28

On the Sabbath Jesus does what most Jewish men do. He goes to the synagogue to read the Torah and Prophets and to pray. This was in Capernaum and he was traveling, presumably with those he had called earlier to travel with him. The custom at that time was that any of the men who felt so inspired could stand up, select a passage and teach about it. In this case we don’t know what passage Jesus chose. Mark has stories of Jesus entering and teaching in synagogues throughout Galilee.

“Authority” is a key word in this passage. He taught with authority and not as the scribes. After he exorcised the man with the unclean spirit, those present recognized that he has a “new teaching – with authority!” Granted, before the exorcism, the description is that “he taught them as one having authority.” Maybe Jesus had authority; maybe he didn’t. After the exorcism, those in the synagogue doubted no longer. “What is this? A new teaching–with authority?” Jesus’ healing exorcism is a teaching and it is authoritative.

Why the recognition of teaching with authority? And why the jab at the scribes? The scribes taught by referring to others, similar to the dialogues that happen in the Mishna. “On this point, Rabbi Heschel says this but Rabbi Joshua says that.” Jesus’s authority was his interpretation of the Law, not that of another. He taught as a prophet. “Thus says the Lord!” It often put him in conflict with the scribes. Who is the teaching authority? The healing exorcism shows that Jesus is the teaching authority. There is no need for him to refer or defer to other rabbis. His teachings are authoritative.

I studied theology for many years in order to be able to teach with authority. I ended up using that knowledge of philosophy, theology and Scriptural analytics in teaching courses, perhaps with authority. But, when someone asked me a question that was not based on my education, my answers, with the authority of books and professors, were not what they were seeking. They wanted to know who God is. They were not looking for a proof of God’s existence. They were not looking for an explanation of the various kinds of “God-talk.” They wanted to know how to talk with God, how to pray.

One of my clearest memories of this was when I was asked to lead a scripture study for some teens. At the time I was reading a book on the “J” trajectory through the Torah. When followed, the trajectory is quite a dramatic story, a soap opera of sorts. I thought this would capture the interest of the teens during our weekly Sunday afternoon meetings. I failed miserably. The wanted to explore how the scriptures impacted their lives. I was giving them a dramatic reading of the Hebrew Scriptures that could touch their minds but did not touch their souls. The study ended after about 6 weeks. I did not have the skills that I have developed since then, skills to help them learn how to listen to God’s word addressed to them. I did not have the courage to open up to them, to ask them what impacted them in a passage, to tell them how it impacted my life.

That is what they sought. That is what our catechumens and other seekers want. That is what I am now able to give because I have gone beyond teaching with the knowledge of the scribes to teaching with the authority of one who wants to share faith.

I continue to study. I am not rejecting the scripture studies or reading and discussing philosophy and theology The knowledge I acquired and continue to acquire is valuable. But it is valuable when I am able to integrate it into my faith life and then try to help others gain insight into their faith lives.

About Jerry

Catechumenate ministry is my passion. I have been involved in the catechumenate since 1980 in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal branches of the Church. I am a "progressive," ecumenical Christian who is realistic enough to know that the Church has never been "One"; is often not "Holy"; strives to be "Catholic" and is "Apostolic" only when members respect the Tradition rather than the latest customs. I have been fortunate to be able to focus on various elements of philosophy, theology and Christian history during my studies. I am able to bring them all to bear in catechumenate ministry.
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