Deacon Cornell's Homilies


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


January 29-30, 2000 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

The people were astonished because Jesus taught as one with authority, and not as the scribes. This line from Mark is probably the single most influential scripture verse in my life. Years ago when I first heard it, I wanted to know how Jesus talked with authority. Was it what he said? Was it how he said it? Was it because he is God? Was it because he was a perfect human being?

I can remember pouring over my family's Jerusalem bible when I was younger, looking for the Gospel passages in printed in red. Those were the words that Jesus spoke. I thought I could find in these words some kind of magic power. For a long time, I thought that the authority came from knowing what Jesus knew so that is what I studied scripture for. But whatever skill I focused on, it never explained why people were astonished at how Jesus taught. There is a story told about the great stage actor, Charles Laughton, that illustrates where Jesus authority comes from.

When Charles Laughton was not engaged in doing a play or a movie, he used to go around the country and do bible readings. People would come from far and wide to hear this great actor read his favorite bible passages. One night in a small country church, Mr. Laughton was holding one of these bible readings. After he had read his passages, he would ask if there were anyone in the audience who would like to read their favorite passage. Most of the time, no one volunteered because they simply could not imagine following such a impressive reader as Charles Laughton. But this one night, a grizzled old farmer stood up and shuffled up to the podium where he proceeded to recite the 23rd Psalm. When he finished and sat down there was only silence. It was apparent to everyone in the church that if this had been a bible reading contest, Charles Laughton would have come in a distant second. Later that evening, a young man questioned Mr. Laughton about this. How was it possible that this farmer could have made such an impression? Charles Laughton answered, "I have a excellent trained voice; I know how to annunciate, and how to project; I know the lines of these readings by heart. But that farmer, he knew the author."

I would bet that if we talked about what it means to be a Catholic, that most of what we would say would have to do with theology, rules, regulations. That is how the scribes taught; they were meticulous teachers of the many details of being a Jew. But knowing about Jesus, and about God, and about the laws of the Church does not make a good Catholic. It helps, but this kind of knowledge or belief or skill in the various liturgical practices is not the essence of what it is to be a Catholic Christian. The essence of our religion is: do we know the Father? The only way to know the Father is to know the one whom the Father sent: Notice I didn't say knowing about the Father or Jesus, but knowing them like the Father and the Son and the Spirit know each other. That is Jesus prayer at the last supper, "Father make them one with me as I am with you."

People were astonished at how Jesus taught because his relationship with the father shone through. I can talk all day about what I know about scripture, about the various meanings of the Greek words used in this Gospel passage, or the various liturgical norms of the Church but if I haven't personally and communally experienced Jesus, then it is just a bunch of knowledge. I might as well be teaching math or social studies. And you can tell, can't you. We all can tell when someone is genuine, authentic.

Why is this important? Because we are that prophet who God promised to raise up from our kin. We, who together with Jesus as our head, are the body of Christ, the one who teaches the world with authority. And we are also the ones who die from speaking a word that God has not put in our mouths.

If we have really encountered Jesus, then how can we not forgive those who have harmed us? If we don't forgive them, what are we teaching? If we Christians really have encountered Jesus who came to call us to be one, then how can we splinter into so many different churches. If we cannot put aside our differences and unite, what are we teaching?

Have we really encountered Jesus? Do we know him rather than know about him? How does that happen for most of us?

One Sunday at religious ed, a young boy heard the parable of the last Judgement. The part that really made an impression on him was how Jesus said that whenever you shared something with someone in need, you were really sharing it with Jesus. On his way home, he passed an elderly lady sitting on a bench in the park, looking very sad and lonely. As he went past her, he remembered his lesson so he went back and sat on the bench next to her. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a candy bar he had been saving. He asked the lady if she would like half. Her eyes lit up and she smiled as she said yes, that she loved chocolate. They sat there for a only a few moments, sharing the candy bar and talking. Then the boy said goodbye and went home, smiling and whistling. When he got home, his parents asked him why he was so happy. He told them that he had met Jesus in the park, and that she had a great smile! The lady from the park came home to the apartment she shared with her sister, all smiles as well. Her sister ask her why she was so happy. She said, "I just shared a chocolate bar with Jesus. He was a lot younger than I imagined."

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