28 January 2018
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1: 21-28
Some years ago I was visiting someone sick a hospital. After the visit I was in one of the corridors and came upon a woman who was being wheeled on a stretcher. She saw me and asked if I were a Catholic priest. When I answered ‘yes’ she asked me to bless her. She was on her way into the operating theatre for a big operation. So I prayed over her and blessed her and prayed also that the doctors and nurses involved in the operation would use all their skills to make it a successful operation. I could see that she was very happy with this prayer. “Now”, she said, “father, I know that the operation will be a success because God has blessed me”. And it was. Later the doctor told me that up to the point of the blessing the woman was quite nervous about the operation but her faith in the power of God’s blessing relaxed her and did not put any psychological block in the way of a successful operation. She still depended on the skills of the doctors and nurses. But God used them as well as me to help this woman.
In the gospel today, Jesus highly impressed the people who were listening to his teaching because he spoke with authority and, using the same authority, he expelled the unclean spirit from the man who was under its power. St. Mark places this incident in a very prominent position, that is, at the beginning of the gospel to highlight the reason for the coming of Jesus. In preaching to the people and casting out the unclean spirit Jesus is revealing the liberating or freeing power of his mission. Jesus’ power is greater than anything evil may try to do to us. In the short term we may suffer but God eventually proves victorious. Jesus came to free us or liberate us on the different levels of our being. He loosens the bonds or chains of our servitude, of false ideas, false gods, and dishonest practices.
I know a certain man who says he cannot forgive a man who hurt him very badly some years ago and he is very bitter whenever he sees him. He suffers a lot from headaches and tension after meeting him. If he would only turn to Jesus and ask for the gift of forgiveness or at least say he wants to forgive I have little doubt that his headaches and tension would go. This is why Jesus came.
Yet it is easy enough to understand why people may find it difficult to accept the authority of Jesus over evil. He called people to a new way of looking at things, God’s way. If a society is closed to change, will it be easy for them to accept a new teaching? It is not easy to change a society pattern that may be operating in a place for centuries. For example in Islamic countries where the strict law of Islam operates, a woman who has studied abroad and now returns to her country may have the inner freedom now not to wear a veil on her head. But it will be almost impossible to do so because the others, who have never traveled [especially the male religious leaders who want to keep the power over women], may be scandalised at this so-called heresy. Wearing a veil or not wearing it, in itself, is not important. Or even in our own Catholic Church, for a long time the idea of female altar servers was forbidden. The Pope of the time forbade it. Some years later, it was allowed. Now it is acceptable in many places. But because for so long it wasn’t the practice, the new idea was for a long time rejected.
So when Jesus speaks with authority in the gospel today, he is bringing the GOOD NEWS which frees us from what enslaves us, especially in matters which we think cannot change. Where do we stand? Are we limited or closed to new invitations from God? For many Christians their Image of God and understanding of who God is can be very limiting and enslaving. Like the woman whose husband was killed in a car accident is convinced that God is punishing her because many years ago she had an abortion. Her religion is really a determined effort to keep on the good side of God by many religious practices, yet Jesus came to say: ‘that is not what God is like’. God loves you unconditionally and passionately. He has forgiven you. Relax and enjoy God. Don’t make him into a monster’.
Many people [young and not so young] are leaving the church because we have made religion into a system of beliefs which doesn’t always correspond with who God is and what Jesus came to witness to. Surely this is the message that Pope Francis is trying to teach… but are we willing to listen? Particularly church ‘leaders’ who have grown comfortable and used to the church they have helped mold? Maybe we need to talk to Jesus in the quiet of our hearts and listen to what he is trying to teach us. The God of Jesus is a freeing, loving God but also challenging in the areas where we are hurting ourselves or others by wrong ideas about Jesus and why he came. And pray for Pope Francis that he may not be discouraged by opposition to his ministry.
“Lord Jesus, we praise and thank you for coming and revealing yourself to us. For being God who wants to free us from all that enslaves us. Help us to realise that eternal life begins now and is a totally free gift and not something to work hard to earn. Help us to love and follow you simply to show our gratitude and appreciation for all that you are and continue to do for us. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA