Breaking news

"We interrupt our regular programming for this very important news." Some version of this familiar phrase has become the routine segue for informing the public of world events. When the "breaking news" announcement indicates that a world leader will be speaking shortly, the ambience may be all the more charged.

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Fourth Sunday in
Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 95
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

In the process of growing into mature human beings, most of us will have developed a sense of authentic authority. This begins at an early age. I recall telling my younger brother to come in from playing and get ready for supper. He often objected until I called on the authority of one of my parents. As soon as he heard, "Mom said so" or "Dad said so," he said his goodbyes to his friends and came running.

During our school years, teachers and school administrators become the recognized authorities. In our faith lives, it is the priest or minister whose voice commands respect. Occasionally, during the course of the liturgical year, a letter may arrive from the bishop, whose words carry the authority of that office.

In the workplace, our boss or supervisor has authority ... and so it goes. Wherever people willingly participate in an organization of any kind, those who have accepted the responsibility for leading others are the recognized authorities.

With these ideas in mind, we turn to the sacred texts for today -- and we find there "breaking news." Writing in the late seventh century B.C., the Deuteronomist called upon the authority of the people's late, great leader Moses to promise the people of Judah that God would send them a prophet. The coming prophet should be heeded, for his words would be from God.

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Given the tenuous political climate of his day, the Deuteronomist's promise was probably a source of hope for his people. Someone would be sent by God to lead them in the ways of truth, justice and peace.

In today's Gospel, Mark takes special care to portray Jesus as one who spoke and acted with authority. But Jesus' authority was not derived from something else. Unlike the scribes, who called upon Scripture or upon famed rabbis or knowledgeable scholars, Jesus possessed authority that was his own, by virtue of who he was.

Indeed, Mark made Jesus' identity clear to his readers from the beginning. In Mark 1:1, we read, "Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." While Jesus' contemporaries and disciples often appeared to be uncertain about his identity; and although Jesus' identity was fully revealed in Mark's Gospel only as he hung on the cross ("Clearly, this man was the Son of God," Mark 15:39) -- Mark kept his readers in the know by including in his Gospel little glimpses at Jesus, Son of God.

The first glimpse came at Jesus' baptism. Another glimpse is offered in today's Gospel reading, where Jesus is recognized and acclaimed as "the Holy One of God." Besides teaching with authority, Jesus also acted authoritatively, proving that he, as Son of God, was more powerful than any evil spirit.

We who have been called to follow Jesus are also called to enjoy a share in his authority. When we speak and act and do all things in his name, ours is an authority authentically derived from his. But if we use that authority unworthily to press for power, wealth and control over others, then our authority is not true, nor does it reflect our belonging to Jesus. But how do we strike the proper balance?

Perhaps we might take a cue from the people in the synagogue at Capernaum so long ago. They were open to listening to Jesus. They recognized he was offering them "a new teaching with authority." They were simple and humble enough to be astonished -- some translations say "spellbound"! In their amazement at what they had seen and heard, they also acknowledged Jesus' power over evil or unclean spirits. And, in the aftermath of that event, they talked about Jesus; they were his witnesses throughout all of Galilee.

What the people experienced that day in Capernaum is also available to each of us. Each time the Gospel is proclaimed, it is "breaking news" deserving of our attention and respect. But that news also comes with a challenge. Will we listen and then go away unchanged, or will we listen, learn and be transformed by its power, grace and authority?

[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]

This story appeared in the Jan 16-29, 2015 print issue under the headline: Breaking news .

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