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Jesus as Master Teacher

by: Archbishop Charles E. Smith, OSF

Aristotle has been regarded as the greatest thinker of all times, for centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Perhaps many even today still believe that. Anyone, of course, can take two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But in 1589, nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death. Legend has it that Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right.

I believe that this illustrates perfectly what is going on in the world today. You could show the terrible ravaging effects of AIDS and people will have promiscuous sex anyway. You can show someone a diseased liver and cancerous lungs and people are going to abuse alcohol and smoke regardless of the facts. You can show artifacts from the Holocaust, and yet even today, some would disagree that it ever happened.

You know what I wish? I wish someone would just climb to the top of the church and drop off a ten-pound argument and a one-pound argument and let's just see if they reach the ground first. That would finally prove who is right and who is wrong. But then I am reminded that when Galileo did that no one believed him. Even with the authority of obvious visible proof, i.e. the two weights reached the ground at the same time, the professors did not believe. The problem here is obvious. Most people are going to believe what they have always believed regardless of the facts.

The Beginnings in Capernaum. The very first event of Jesus' ministry, as Mark presents to us today's Gospel message, is one that expresses Jesus' authority. Mark records that when Jesus came to Capernaum, on the Sabbath day, and entered the synagogue and taught, the crowds were astounded. Why? His Authority. The Greek word for "authority" means literally "out from himself." He taught, not as the scribes taught, but as one having authority.

What was it that convinced them? What did they hear and see in the life of Christ that made him stand above all other teachers? Why were they so drawn to him?

His teaching was new, because Jesus moved from past tense to present tense.

If you ever take a tour of the Holy Land one of the places you'll visit is the ancient ruins of the city Capernaum. It is the fishing town that Jesus made his headquarters while he was in Galilee. Why did he make this his home? For one very good reason: It was Peter's hometown.

What is remarkable is that you can go there today and see the erect walls of a small first century home. The home has been identified since the time of Constantine as Peter's house. A hundred feet from the front door of Peter's home are the remains of the synagogue of Jesus. Standing there with the winds of the Sea of Galilee blowing through the ruins you can picture Jesus and Peter waking up on the Sabbath, walking across the street with the rest of the disciples, and attending services. This being Peter's home synagogue he probably had something to do with Jesus being asked to teach. It is a place where Jesus taught regularly. For a period of time he was there every week in the synagogue teaching as a visiting Rabbi. And as he began to teach, Mark tells us, the people were amazed.

What amazed them is that when Jesus stood up to teach he didn't say, Moses has taught us, or the exodus teaches us, or the prophet Isaiah reminds us, or Rabbi so-and-so has said. No. When he stood up in the synagogue, there in Peter's hometown, he said, "I say to you." All the other Rabbis told the people to offer a sacrifice at the temple for the remission of sins but Jesus said to people directly, "Your sins are forgiven." The Rabbis all encouraged the people to believe in God. Along comes Jesus and he tells them, "Believe in God, believe also in me."

The difference was astonishing. All the other Rabbis got their authority from quoting the Scriptures and talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They referenced the Rabbis before them to support their positions. But Jesus! Here was something new. He was the authority. I am the door; I am the vine; I am the gate; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the light of the world. His teachings echoed with something new, something astonishing. God was no longer in the past. God was in the present in the life of this Jesus of Nazareth.

He taught with authority. It was obvious to the synagogue that day that Jesus was a teacher of a different order because he didn't quote the authorities of the past; he was the authority himself. That was their first clue that something new was happening. But then something happened right in their midst that stunned them, made them sit up and take notice. He backed up what he taught with action. It may have been on Jesus' very first visit to the Synagogue, in the middle of his sermon, that a man with an evil spirit interrupted him. Jesus then demonstrated the authority of his teaching with his power over the spirits.

Let's take a look and what happened. The first thing to notice is that the man did not burst into the synagogue disrupting the service. Mark tells us that this was a man within their synagogue, probably a respected lay person and a productive member of society. The synagogue leaders would not permit any other kind. A second thing to notice is that this man's affliction is only identified as an evil spirit. This evil is not tied to any sickness. What then was this evil spirit doing to this man? We cannot say for sure, perhaps it was of a moral nature. Perhaps it had to do with hate, revenge, perverted sex, unbridled lust for power, uncontrolled greed, distorted ambition, fear, guilt, envy, jealousy. Or perhaps it was lust, negativism, slander, deceit, revenge, greed, or gossip. Which one? All of these exist around us and uncontrolled, they can destroy life.

"What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?" the evil spirit asks. "I know who you are, the holy one of God." The demon is not even addressed. He acknowledges, of his own accord, that one with a greater authority has arrived. "Be Quiet," Jesus speaks sternly, "Come out of him." The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

Although Paul reminds us that the chief demon himself, Satan, is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I believe that it is important for us to realize that evil must be given permission to posses us.

Education can make us intelligent. Sociology can give us cultural knowledge. History can give us world knowledge. Philosophy teaches us conceptual knowledge. Science teaches us the natural laws. Psychology offers behavioral knowledge. Religion imparts divine knowledge. The Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier said: "it is not healing alone that man stands in need of, but salvation, of the assurance that the world and mankind have been redeemed." (Adapted from The Meaning of Persons, p. 110-111). I believe Jesus brings that new kind of teaching, a new authority into this world, While some use religion to control others, remember that Jesus came into this world as light. As Truth which is to set us free!

Here is what I have learned. I think in your life you have earned this too. These intellectual disciplines can offer us self-knowledge. They help us see ourselves more clearly and are incredibly important for that reason. But, the more clearly we see ourselves, the more we realize our need for God, for some authority outside ourselves, some power to deliver us. We don't simply need physical and/or emotional healing; we need the assurance of a Loving God. The Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier said it this way: "it is not healing alone that man stands in need of, but salvation, of the assurance that the world and mankind have been redeemed". (Adapted from The Meaning of Persons, p. 110-111). I believe Jesus brings that new kind of teaching, a new authority into this world , to make us whole and to set us free from the self-destruction of the evil that will destroy us.

"What is this?" the people asked with amazement. "A new teaching-with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him! Jesus' message is powerful. Do we truly believe it powerful enough to change our own life? I pray that we believe it is!