Fr. Charles Irvin
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95:1-2,6-9; I Corinthians 732-35; Mark 1: 21-28
A man in the synagogue was possessed by an evil spirit that recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God” who has come to destroy the spirits of evil. After Jesus casts out the evil spirit, the people in the synagogue are amazed at the power and authority that Jesus possesses. After all, who had ever before heard of such a thing? Thereupon they go out of that synagogue to spread His fame throughout Galilee.
We should note in particular the style of speech used by Jesus. He did not say: “The Lord’s words for you are…” Nor did He say: “God has sent me to do this.” No. Rather Jesus spoke in His own name, on His own authority. There is a big difference in Jesus’ speech here. He is not speaking on behalf of God; He is speaking as God! He is not representing God; He is God.
In another gospel account, St. Matthew, reports Jesus as saying:
“You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers, ‘You shall not commit murder; every murderer will be liable to judgment.’ What I say to you is …everyone who grows angry with His brother shall be liable to judgment.
“You have heard the commandment, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ What I say to you is: anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in His thoughts.
“You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers, ‘Do not take a false oath; rather, make good to the Lord all your pledges.’ What I tell you is: do not swear at all. Say, ‘Yes’ when you mean ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ when you mean ‘No.’ Anything beyond that is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:21-37)
Some may ask themselves: “Well, what has this to do with my spirituality?”
Have you ever heard it stated that it really doesn’t matter what religion you have since they are all taking us to God? That sort of thinking flies in the face of what we just heard about Jesus Christ, both in these passages as well as in many others. Because if it is true that He is God made flesh for us, then it really does matter what religion we have. The devils themselves recognized Him. Why did religious people refuse to acknowledge who He really is? It wasn’t the devils that gave Jesus a bad time. They simply vacated; they simply departed from His presence and went elsewhere to do their dirty work.
The people who gave Jesus a bad time were the religious know-it-alls, the ones who thought they had all of the answers when it comes to religion and going to church. The more they realized that Jesus of Nazareth was presenting the authority of God, the more they understood what He was claiming to be, the more they wanted to get rid of Him. He spoke with God’s own authority. He was a terrible threat to the big know-it-alls of His day. So it is also in our day.
Now there are a number of ways to get rid of Christ. You can try to kill Him, bury Him in a tomb, and then post a squad of soldiers to guard His tomb. We know, however, how useless that was.
Another way is to simply ignore Him. Many have done that, are doing it now, and will do so in the future. The danger about ignoring Him is equivalent to the danger of ignoring laws, or the laws of physics, or warning signs, or instructions on drug prescriptions, or the laws of aerodynamics when you’re flying an airplane. Ignoring what is right and true brings pain, destruction, and death to us.
Still another way is to claim that Jesus is just one of many interesting religious figure in human history. You can simply decide that Buddha or Mohammed, or some guru from the Far East is just as good as Jesus it comes to journeying to God.
If that’s true, then why bother with Mass? Why not simply establish your own church? After all, if you really believe that one religion is just as good as another you can probably do as good a job with organizing a new church among the other ones that are already out there. But if you do, let’s see you cure people with various diseases, make the blind see, restore crippled limbs, and raise people from the dead. Finally, and most importantly, let us see you rise from the dead three days after you have been put to death and buried, as you predicted beforehand.
So if it’s really true that one religion is just as good as another? Do we take the words and teachings of Jesus with ultimate seriousness, or do we just relativize His life, death, resurrection and teachings? Is His voice just another one of many?
Now I’m quite aware that all of you who are here do not believe that. You wouldn’t be here listening to His words and receiving His Body and Blood if your hearts and souls were elsewhere. But you have heard members of your families reduce religion to something equal to a cafeteria choice, claiming that it really doesn’t matter what religion you have so long as you have one. Will you simply let those statements pass by unchallenged? Will you let your children, your grandchildren, and members of your family as well as your friends say these things without responding with your own convictions about Jesus Christ? We need to love them enough to call them to take Jesus of Nazareth seriously. After all, He really does speak with authority, and not like the others. And He went on to demonstrate with His miracles the truth that He indeed had the authority of God. He spoke as only God can speak.
We’ve all heard a lot of talk about evangelizing. Evangelizing doesn’t mean that we have to go around town knocking on doors and preaching at others about our religion. It can be something far less difficult and far less offensive than that. Evangelizing can be as easy as simply and clearly stating, when the opportunity arises, the truth about Jesus and telling folks “We have never heard anyone else speak with such authority.”
We are now going to profess our Christian Creed as we do in every Sunday liturgy. Each word in it has real meaning. Today, just to emphasize the importance of those words, I am asking you to silently listen and pay close attention to the words of the Creed as I carefully recite it for you.