Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

At Capernaum, A New Kind of Teaching!



THIS IS A PHOTOGRAPH of the late 4th century Capernaum Synagogue built over the remains of the 1st century Synagogue of Jesus. The Marcan Gospel scene, Chapter 1: 21-28 took place here.
They came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath he went to synagogue and began to teach. The people were astounded at his teaching, for, unlike the doctors of the law, he taught with a note of authority. Now there was a man in the synagogue possessed by an unclean spirit. He shrieked: "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I  know who you are - the Holy One of God.?" Jesus rebuked him: "Be silent", he said, "And come out of him. And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry left him. They were all dumbfounded and began to ask one another, "What is this? a new kind of teaching! He speaks with authority. When he gives orders, even the unclean spirits submit." The news spread rapidly, and he was soon spoken of all over the district of Galilee.

The people sensed that Jesus taught with authority. That might better be translated authenticity - that what Jesus  preached came from his own inner experience of God, that he wasn't just repeating religious formulas like their own lawyer-preachers. The quality of preaching today needs a serious reform. It's no secret that people leave the Church and search elsewhere because the preaching at Mass is so often abysmal.

A grandpa took his grandson to Mass one Sunday - a young boy whose parents were not church-goers. On the way back home the grandfather asked the boy, "So what did you think of Mass?" And the boy answered, "The man up front talked a lot." Some preachers think that effective preaching means long preaching.

Some preachers don't know how to address a Sunday congregation without using religious or theological language. Other preachers think that homily time is catechism class and that God's Word is well presented if the people know their dogma. Protestant ministers often string along Bible quotes while Catholic preachers quote saints, popes and bishops - kind of pulling out the big guns to authenticate their message. Some preachers never speak a controversial word because they're afraid someone won't like what's said and make a report to the bishop or withhold a  donation. 

I think the needed preaching reform might begin with each one asking "Do I love Jesus - really love Jesus - as he is discovered in no other book than the Gospels?"

We might notice too that the demon  knows who Jesus is already: "I know who you are, Holy One of God." We'd expect the evil one to divide the people with a lie, but here the unclean spirit can't help himself. Overwhelmed with the truth of Jesus, he blurts out that Jesus is undeniably God's Holy One. He knows his time is up, that Jesus has the power. Isn't it interesting - the unclean spirits know who Jesus is - but we often don't.

Lastly, the demon uses Jesus' name. It's a power play - kind of like my mother sternly calling me Stephen Peter when I was a boy in trouble. We're all divided people. We've got a foot in both worlds: heaven and earth. We're each still taken by, obsessed with, or compromised by some earthly way. It takes great personal insight and a deep truth to know and acknowledge this.

Will I let Jesus have the power? What would change in me - my relationships, my family, my nation, the Church if I (we) gave Jesus the power which rightly belongs to him as God's Holy One? Don't think of how others would change, only myself.

11 comments:

  1. We cannot escape bad preaching. It seems that every religion is riddled with ministers who canot convey the true meaning of Jesus' words. So it is really up to us to accept the messages that Jesus taught. With open hearts and minds

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    1. A woman told me years ago that the preaching in her church was so poor so had to find a way to get through it, so she would add up the numbers on the hymn board - first from top to bottom, then from bottom to top, them from left to right, then right to left, then diagonal from top to bottom then in reverse. Funny. But not really.

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    2. I can sympathize with this woman. It is not from the lack of trying to pay attention that the mind wanders. As in any situation, a speaker should connect with their audience first and foremost if they want them to take something with them when they leave. At the very least, composing one's grocery list, or playing math games in their head during a sermon will keep a person from dozing off. Unfortunately we settle for the less of two evils.

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    3. To teach as Jesus did - that ought to be the homilist's goal.

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    4. Yes, and I can only imagine that Jesus looked at the people gathered in front of him and made them feel like he was talking to them and they walked away with some important lesson to think about. That is what I meant by connection. So indeed, to teach as Jesus did.

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  2. I can only imagine what kind of homilies you give Father. From reading your posts each week, I can only think that you are purely inspirational in your words. Your parishioners must adore you and I hope they appreciate what they have in you, for it is not what is the norm in most places. Expecially in rural areas where priests are few and far between.

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  3. I remember a time in my life when the preaching was very difficult to endure in my parish. The youngest priest gave an academic lecture for a homily with books piled up high all around the top of the pulpit so he could read ancient quotes to us. So I would hold a little paper icon of the face of Jesus on my lap during this lecture: What the Word of God does for our ears (or should), the icon does for our eyes.

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  4. This is for all those who have not been privileged:
    Fr. Stephen is a gifted homilist. One might say he is the best priest one has ever been blessed with. Your mind wouldn't wander during his sermons as you would be enthralled in what he is saying and wouldn't want to miss a word. He is still dearly missed but this blog is a good reminder to us and his lessons are imperative. It is because of him that I can let Jesus have power in my life. He helped to unlock that part of me and open up to God's love.

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    1. That certainly says something. A testament to the powerfulness of you as teacher. May Christ live through you Father as you continue to teach us about God's love and how we can live more fully in this life.

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    2. I never imagined I'd be using the Internet to connect with people this way. I thought delivering the Word ended with the pulpit and a Sunday bulletin hard copy. Friends Dina and Otto urged the use of the Internet and made it possible.

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  5. I am thankful that it came to be, regardless of the motivation behind it. You are doing a wonderful job with this blog. Every post is an invitation to learn something, even if it is about my own spirituality. Connections can be made in the most unexpected ways.

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