Tuesday 31 August 2010

Bible Book:

"They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority." (v.32)

Luke 4:31-37 Tuesday 31 August 2010


The events of this passage take place in Capernaum, a lakesidecity in Galilee, which Jesus may have used as a base for his earlyministry. This follows on from his baptism and wildernesstemptation, which is believed to have happened when Jesus wasaround 30 years old (Luke3:23). Preaching in synagogues (Jewish places of worship) wasmost likely part of Jesus' regular pattern, and he had earlierannounced the scope of his ministry when he visited his home townof Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).

Today's reading takes place in a similar synagogue, where thepeople were continually amazed at Jesus' teaching. But what was soamazing about it?

When I went to university, I soon learned that no one is reallyinterested in what you have to say unless you've first studiedwhat's gone before. An academic essay that doesn't have frequentreferences to other scholars is unlikely to get a very high grade.Students are expected to write with a certain humility and respect- aware that countless others have done a lot more work on thesubject well before you came on the scene! Preachers, too, are notexpected to get into a pulpit and 'say it as they see it' withoutfirst having consulted some commentators on the subject (and, atthe very least, consulted the Bible!) In Jesus' day, this was nodifferent. Jewish teachers would constantly refer to the traditionsof various elders in the faith, as well as the great writings, andnot least the particular rabbi in whose footsteps they werefollowing. But Jesus was unusual. They say he spoke withauthority.

In his words and stories, in his commands and teachings, Jesusdidn't refer back to the great Jewish teachers. Even when hementioned the Scriptures it was to offer fresh and challenginginterpretations of the Law. He was original; he was unique. Hespoke as though there had been no teachers before him. Hisauthority appeared to come direct from God. This was the authoritythat amazed and shocked his listeners. But where was the proof? Ifyou can't back up your words how can anyone trust them? The answerhere came in his actions.

In this story, Jesus comes face to face with an evil spirit - an"unclean demon" within a man. Demons seemed quite common in Jesus'ministry, even though the rest of the Bible has little to say aboutthem. It's as though Jesus' very presence has awoken manifestationsrevealing the spiritual side of his mission. The ultimate goodnessof God comes face to face with evil in very tangible ways. Thedemon addresses Jesus as "the Holy One of God" - emphasising thestark contrast between them. A holy war is going on, but thedemonic forces are portrayed as feeble when confronted with Jesus'words. It's believed that similar demons were usually addressedusing magic spells which invoked other powers and authorities, butJesus simply spoke to the evil spirit. He told it to shut up andget out! And the Gospel-writer Luke (who is believed to have been adoctor) informs us that the patient wasn't left with any permanentdamage.

And so, not only could the people hear Jesus' authority, they couldsee it too. His words were backed up by his actions. And thepeople's words at the end of the passage suggest this was not aone-off event. Jesus was beginning to be recognised as a verypowerful figure.

To Ponder

In our gospel life, we may speak words of love,peace and compassion, but where is the proof that God is with us?Like Jesus, shouldn't our words be supported by our actions? Readand reflect on James 2:14-26.

We must be careful not to quickly diagnose'demons' today for conditions which would be better helped bymedical science or psychology. Consider what unnecessary distressor damage could be caused to someone if we were to simply assumethat the spiritual climate of Jesus' time is the same as it is inthe west today.

At the end of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says, "Allauthority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go thereforeand make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18-19). When wespeak, pray, or act in the name of Jesus, we are not claiming ourown authority but that of our master. How do we ensure that ourteaching and actions are in fact in line with Jesus? How does thecommunity of the Church help us with that?

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