Thursday, 26 January 2012

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

…he went to the synagogue and began to teach.…his teaching made a deep impression on them……he taught them with authority.…a teaching that is new……with authority behind it…

It must have been wonderful to see Jesus heal the sick. It must have been astonishing to see him cast out devils. It must have been awesome to see him raise Lazarus from the dead. Nevertheless, if I had a choice, I would like to have been able to see and hear Jesus teaching.

In Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, it was that short snippet of Jesus at table with his disciples at the Last Supper, just before his passion, which moved me most. To be honest, it gave me goose bumps. The apostles were seated round him, listening, eyes glued to him. His voice was gentle, confident and clear. He was teaching them.

There are two kinds of teachers: those who teach facts and those who teach truth. A mathematics teacher or a chemistry teacher might be said to teach facts, while Jesus, and his Church, her bishops and priests, teach truth. The Bible, now that we are on the subject, contains many facts, however, its overriding interest is in teaching truth.

A good teacher of the facts knows how to place the seed of knowledge into the minds of his students; a good teacher of the truth knows how to place the seed of truth not only into the minds but also into the hearts of his pupils.

But there is a complication. A good teacher is nothing before those who have closed their minds and hearts to him. Even the Lord was powerless before the stubborn refusal of the Pharisees to open themselves to his teaching. How often have I not experienced this in my own life. I recall vividly the absolute disbelief I felt when a parent approached me after school one afternoon (a Catholic secondary school) accusing me of teaching her children that abortion was a good and acceptable means of birth control. I couldn't believe it! Was I that bad a teacher? Fortunately I discovered afterwards that the reason was nothing to do with the quality of my teaching.

Jesus experienced this I’m-not-going-to-listen-to-a-word-you-say phenomenon long before I did, and it cut him to the heart.

A good teacher, apart from the quality of all that goes to make up a good teaching style, like clarity of voice and presentation, understanding of the ability level of his students, and so on, must believe in what he is teaching. He must be one with what he is teaching.

Parents cannot teach their children that honesty, discipline, forgiveness, or Sunday Mass is important if their own lives witness to the contrary. Children are very quick to spot a phoney and will most often judge the truth they are being taught by the integrity of the one who is teaching them.

Precisely here do we come to the astonishment good people felt before the teaching of Jesus: his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority; and it was an authority he drew from both his humanity and his divinity.

We humans are a unity of various elements including the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological. But in none of us are these elements perfectly integrated. Therefore we find intellectual giants who are emotionally crippled, or psychologically damaged individuals who are heroic saints.

This lack of integration or congruence was not the case with Jesus. His human integrity was flawless. Of Jesus we could say that he was truly whole, one with himself, seamlessly fused into human perfection.

What’s more, Jesus’ moral life was perfectly one with his teaching. Jesus believed the truth he taught; Jesus lived the truth he taught; Jesus was the truth he taught. No wonder the poor demons could not resist his word – the word of God spoken by a perfect man – hypostatically united to the perfection of God.

Hebrews 4:12 fittingly describes the teaching of Jesus as the word of God which: is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts.

And so it did. The Pharisees rebelled at the truth and sought to destroy him; while the tax collectors and prostitutes welcomed him and were saved.

And what about you? Do you welcome the truth?

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