Sunday, January 29, 2012
Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 Mark 1:21-28
A number of years ago I was walking through the campus at Harvard on my way to my car. The senior graduation was in progress on the lawn. The guest speaker was Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I caught bits and pieces of his address as I was walking. One statement he made was that “America had lost its courage.” A few weeks later I read the mixed reactions to his speech. Many people found them hard to accept; they took the position that since Solzhenitsyn was not native to America, he could not really know or understand the American version of democracy, and so what he said was not really applicable or true. The reaction of these people, then, was simply to dismiss what Solzhenitsyn was saying to them. Certainly they may have found his message threatening to them; they were perhaps frightened that if what he was saying was true, then their whole way of life and their values were in danger. Since this would be quite painful to accept they simply dismissed it by denying the authority of Solzhenitsyn to speak about those things.
The other reaction was quite different. These people seemed to understand what Solzhenitsyn was saying even though what he was saying was also quite difficult and threatening to them. Still they heard it in a different way. They were even grateful that at least someone came along who had the courage to say what, they felt, needed to be said and should have been said a long time ago. This latter group saw him as one speaking out of his own painful experience, and, therefore, “with great authority.”
Whether we agree with what the Russian author said or not, it illustrates the point of the Gospel of this Sunday’s Liturgy. Whenever someone speaks with new ideas or a new way of seeing things that is contrary to our way of seeing them, or that challenges our value system, it is natural to react to them with a certain degree of hostility. We often demand proof of them and wonder by what right they say these things.
This is the situation that we see in the Gospel. Christ has been invited, as was the custom, to teach in the synagogue. And, as we read in the Gospel, he spoke to them in a manner that was different from the one they were accustomed to hearing. He spoke “with authority,” that is to say, as one who knew what he was talking about. As proof of this, he then performed the miracle of exorcising the man of the unclean spirit. This direct proof of his authority was even more of a challenge to many of the religious leaders of his time, and it provoked in them an even greater resistance. They did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and the fact that he might possibly be the Messiah was upsetting and disturbing to them. It was a challenge to their value and even to their temporal position as leaders of the people.
It is normal for us, when we’ve heard someone present to us a new way of looking at things, to find it rather disturbing. We are then forced to re-evaluate our past way of doing things and consider the possibility of adopting new values. Because this can be disturbing, we first tend to block out or deny what the speaker is saying. Still we must try to understand him, as in fact, a great number of people did in the reading today.
They were open to Christ’s teaching and to the miracle that he worked; they recognized his authority. In this way their reaction was quite different from the people who were in the position of power as their religious leaders. They accepted his teaching and made it known throughout the whole countryside; “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”
Their reaction might teach us also to listen to what others say to us, particularly those who speak from experience, even though we may not always like or even ultimately agree with what they say. We can never be in a position of possessing the whole truth. And each person can teach us something, if only we are open enough to try to understand them.
What efforts are you making to refine your skills of listening to patients, residents and fellow workers?
Rev. Joseph Manship