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The Authority of Love

In the gospel today, we hear that Jesus impressed his listeners, because ‘he taught them with authority’ (Mark 1.22). This was the authority not of power but of love. It was the authority not of force but of integrity. The nature of the man shone through him, and was a sign that here and now God was doing a wonderful thing. This authority that shone through him would lead those who followed him to see the world in a new light.

This is the clue to the exorcism which immediately follows. There is a common sense point here: Jesus must time carefully the revelation that he is the long-awaited Messiah, the Holy One from God and of God. This is too important and too sensitive a matter to be left to the ravings of a stranger. There is also a deeper point here, for the people noted that he could overcome even ‘unclean spirits’ (1.27). Many such exorcisms would follow over the next three years, and it is a sign that Jesus comes not only to preach and to heal, but also to confront. People had a strong sense of the forces that oppressed them. Sometimes they came from within, in the form of mental illness, stress, depression. Sometimes the oppression came from outside, in the form of poverty, communal despair, the lack of any sense of direction in society. Sometimes it was the usual flaws of human nature, our tendency to seek luxury or to care only for our own welfare, even at the expense of others. Whatever form it took, Christ was there not only to encourage and to bless, but also to challenge and confront the destructive forces. He could not be who he was and leave things as they were. From now on, wherever Jesus was present, those who heard him would see the world differently, and would know that the love of God was breaking into that world with all its pains and conflicts. No wonder the unclean spirits trembled.

A final word about the second reading. It seems to propose that married people can give less time and attention to the things of God. Paul wrote this in the expectation that the Second Coming was imminent, and that it would be a cosmic event, hence his desire for people to be free to prepare for it. But I take a very different point from this reading that at first glance seems so out of kilter with our modern times. I refer to its implicit equality of the genders. Husbands are to devote themselves to their wives, and wives to their husbands. Moreover, both husbands and wives are said to be involved in the world around them. This sounds to me like a wonderful equality and complementarity.

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