Sermon: Epiphany 4 RCL B – “Remembering the Good News”

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A writer tells of watching a wildcat in a zoo. The cat, he says, weighed several hundred pounds. He writes, “As I stood there an attendant entered the cage through a door on the opposite side. He had nothing in his hands but a broom. Carefully closing the door, he proceeded to sweep the floor of the cage.” The writer observed that the worker had no weapon to ward off an attack by the beast. In fact, when he got to the corner of the cage where the wildcat was lying, he poked the animal with the broom. The wildcat hissed at him and then lay down in another corner of the enclosure. Curious the writer remarked to the attendant, “You certainly are a brave man.” “No, I ain’t brave,” he replied as he continued to sweep. “Well, then that cat must be tame.” “No,” came the reply, “he ain’t tame.” “If you aren’t brave and the wildcat isn’t tame, then I can’t understand why he doesn’t attack you.” The attendant then replied with an air of confidence, “Mister, he’s old–and he ain’t got no teeth.”

Jesus taught with authority and when the demon possessed man came into his presence, the demon within him cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The people were amazed and said, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

To speak with authority: we hear this and can take it to mean several different things. A parent is one who speaks with authority to a child, as is a police officer speaking in the line of duty. Based on the position they hold, they have authority. In addition, an expert in a particular field is one who has authority in that field. Yet, in the time of Jesus, when the religious leaders would speak, they would not claim the authority to speak in their own words, instead they would preface their comments with something along the lines of, “Moses said…” or perhaps a respected leader, “Rabbi So and So said…” I do this a lot when I preach, “St. Paul said…,” “St. Josemaría Escrivá said…,” “The Bishop said…!” When I preach, I try to faithfully convey and interpret the words of Holy Scripture and the Church, but I certainly don’t make it up as I go. Therefore, to speak with “authority” is to not preface your words, but to speak on your own authority. However, even though the people claimed that Jesus was speaking on his own authority, we know that even he did not presume to do this.

From our reading in Deuteronomy: “Moses said: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” Of that prophet, the Lord said, “I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” We know that God raised up many prophets along the way, but he finally raised up his one and only Son who fulfilled this prophecy of Moses. In Jesus, we have the one who spoke everything that the Father commanded. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.” Yet, his words did not come without proof as to his authority. Remember the man that was born blind: the religions leaders called him and questioned him, but did not believe his answers. The man said to them, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” If Jesus could “do nothing,” then it stands to reason that he had no authority, but he performed many miracles and we know that not even death could hold him.

Back to Gospel reading for today: it began, “Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” He didn’t teach them by saying, “Moses said,” instead he taught them with the authority of the Father. And so what was this message that Jesus taught with authority? We heard it last week: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”

Repent. Turn from evil and turn to God, and if necessary, rinse and repeat. Right? And then, “believe in the good news.” And what is this Good News?

D.L. Moody is one of the great preachers of the 19th century. He had a way of turning hearts to God and in one sermon he imagined a conversation Jesus had with his disciples following the Resurrection:

“I can imagine that when Christ said to the little band around Him, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,’” Peter said, “‘Lord, do You really mean that we are to go back to Jerusalem and preach the Gospel to those men that murdered You?’”

“Yes,” said Christ, “go and hunt up that man that spat in My face; tell him that he may have a seat in My Kingdom yet. Yes, Peter, go find that man that made that cruel crown of thorns and placed it on My brow, and tell him I will have a crown ready for him when he comes into My Kingdom, and there will be no thorns in it. Hunt up that man that took a reed and brought it down over the cruel thorns, driving them into My brow. And tell him I will put a scepter in his hand, and he shall rule over the nations of the earth, if he will accept salvation. Search for the man that drove the spear into My side, and tell him there is a nearer way to My heart than that. Tell him I forgive him freely, and that he can be saved if he will accept salvation as a gift.”

What is the Good News? God the Father said to Jesus, “Go. Tell them that I forgive them freely and that they can be saved if they will accept the gift of salvation. Go. Tell them that there is no need to fear the devil or his antics. Why? Because he ain’t got no teeth. You have conquered him once and for all.”

Just as the act of repentance – turning from evil and turning to God – is something that must be repeated; we also need to often be reminded of this message of Good News. We can become lost, not in sin, but in life. We can become caught up in the chaos around us and end up feeling empty inside. We can work so hard simply to survive, that we lose sight of who He is and in the process we forget this message of Good News. A message that should permeate every aspect of our lives with a holy joy. Joy incarnate that cannot be taken from us, for as the Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The one who has authority over death and life has established—in his blood—a covenant with you. This covenant is the Good News and this covenant declares your freedom. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” “Great are the deeds of the Lord!”

Let us pray: Loving Father, faith in Your Word is the way to wisdom. Help us to think about Your Divine Plan that we may grow in the truth. Open our eyes to Your deeds, our ears to the sound of Your call, so that our every act may help us share in the life of Jesus. Give us the grace to live the example of the love of Jesus, which we celebrate in the Eucharist and see in the Gospel. Form in us the likeness of Your Son and deepen His Life within us. Amen.


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