Dt 18:15-20; I Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28
There is an old story about some linemen who were busy putting up telephone poles through a farmer’s fields. The farmer ordered them off his land, whereupon they showed him a paper giving them the right to plant poles wherever they pleased. Not long afterward a big and vicious bull charged the linemen. The old farmer sat on a nearby fence and yelled: ‘Show him yer papers, darn ye, show him yer papers!'” To many Christians, Jesus’ authority is only a paper authority. His word is something we study for inspiration, but we really don’t believe that what Jesus teaches applies to our situation.
Jesus enters with a new teaching and a new authority. The man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit needs something new. The evil spirit that possesses him has robbed him of his freedom and of his joy. The man has probably concluded, “I’m done. This spirit will continue to enslave me for the rest of my life.” But then Jesus speaks and the spirit cries out. The man begins to understand that what he thought was the end was only a pause. Jesus drives out the demon, and the man enters into a new life.
When you and I feel that we have come to the end of our rope, that nothing new can happen, today’s gospel encourages us to hope that God can move us forward.
When we are dismayed because of the bad decisions made by our children or our grandchildren, we say, “Things could have been so well if they had used money responsibly, if they married somebody else, if they avoided alcohol and drugs. But now they are finished. They have no future.” This gospel asks us to believe that God can still surprise us. God can still move the people we love beyond their mistakes.
When we are devastated because we have lost someone that we love in death, and the hole in our heart is so huge that we are certain we will never recover, this gospel encourages us to believe that God can still save us, still move us to a new place.
Pete was a retired sailor. His best friend was his pet parrot. One day the parrot began to cough and cough and cough. Pete became worried. He began to think that the parrot was dealing with second hand smoke, because Pete smoked a pipe and its smoke routinely filled up the house. So Pete took the parrot to a veterinarian. Pete paced back and forth in the waiting room as the vet worked on the diagnosis. After a whole battery of tests the vet came out and said, “Pete, your parrot is fine. His lungs are perfectly clear.” “But what about the cough?” Pete objected, “It is constant.” The vet said “He’s imitating you. Make an appointment with your doctor and get your lungs checked.”
We all influence one another. Consciously or unconsciously people learn from our example. In that learning, our actions speak louder than our words. This truth is included in today’s gospel. I wondered if you noticed it as the gospel was being proclaimed. All the people in the story are amazed by Jesus’ teaching, and yet the story never tells us what Jesus is teaching. It does not give us any words of Jesus. What it gives us instead is Jesus’ powerful expulsion of a demon. What impressed people about Jesus was not his teaching but his deeds. Not his words but his actions. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we need to be conscious of our actions and how they influence others.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents because they are always telling their children and grandchildren what to do. But what do their children and grandchildren see in their actions?
What do the people we work with see in our actions? Can they perceive in what we do and how we treat one another that we consider them valuable? What do our actions say to our friends? Can they see in the things we do that we are people who respect life, who care for those in need, who treat other with fairness? Or are our friendship relations just a matter of entertainment and pleasantries?
What we do influences others. It influences them for good or ill. Our actions either display our enthusiasm or our negativity, our commitment or our cough. Words are important but actions make the difference. On this day as we hear of Jesus’ great action in the gospel, we should follow him and be aware that our actions matter and in the choices that we make, in the time we invest, in the people that we love. That is how we make a difference. Small and selfish actions lead others astray, and actions of generosity and justice build the kingdom of God.