In today’s gospel Jesus teaches us two important lessons if we would be followers of Him. Like him we must teach with authority. And like him we must bring healing to those in need.
The people were amazed at the teaching of Jesus because he did not teach like their usual teachers, the scribes. The scribes were excellent scholars. They not only knew the Jewish Scriptures but they knew also what the various authorities said about the texts. They could point out the differences of interpretation and they could offer wonderful insights that came from the authorities they studied. But Jesus’ teaching was different. He too knew the Jewish Scriptures and probably was acquainted with the opinions of the various authorities. But the insights into God and God’s relationship with humans he knew from personal experience. He could teach with authority.
Many years ago I was asked to take over the Mission Studies Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. I agreed to do it on one condition – that one particular faculty member, Claude-Marie Barbour, would be appointed as Associate Director. I felt that I had the needed academic background to direct the program. But I hadn’t had much mission experience outside the classroom. I doubted if I could teach “with authority”.
The Faculty member that I asked for was a French Protestant Minister. She had worked as a missionary in South Africa for a number of years during the time of apartheid. She had on occasion stayed in the Black Homelands overnight for pastoral reasons, but the government arrested her for breaking the law. She was tortured and tried for trying to overthrow the system. After months of torture they filled her with drugs and flew her back to Paris. She knew from experience what it meant to give witness to God’s love and to have to suffer for giving that witness.
Many of the missionaries who came to study with us in Chicago at that time had gone through similar experiences. I knew that I was not the person who could help them face the pain they had gone through and to come out somewhat healed. So I would send them to Claude Marie. She could “teach them with authority”.
If we are going to teach others about God’s love and mercy, they will not want to know what authors have said about it; they will want to know what our experience of it was.
The gospel today also reminds us that where ever Jesus went he brought healing. If we are to be his followers, then we too must do the same. It may not be the “dramatic” healings that Jesus did, but we can bring healing all the same. I think that is one of the main reasons why I wanted to be a priest.
When I was about eleven years old I, as an altar boy, accompanied a priest, Fr. Stanley, who went to visit the homes of the parishioners the week after Christmas in order to bless their homes and mark their doors with a cross and a C+M+B, the initials for the three kings that came to find Jesus. One time we were greeted by a woman who was not anxious to see a priest, was not happy about inviting him into her home, and was not happy with the things that were going on in the parish. She obviously had been hurt and was in need of healing. They spoke in Polish and I could not understand all of it. But the priest was very kind and patient and loving. He took all the time that was needed to respond to her complaints. By the time we left she was smiling and happy and invited him to come back sometime for a meal. As we were walking back to the presbytery I was thinking: I would like to be like Fr. Stanley, bringing peace and healing to people. That was one of my main reasons for going to the seminary.
We cannot perhaps work the many wonderful works of healing that Jesus did, but we can often bring healing through our words, our support, and often just our quiet presence. When doing so we are true followers of Jesus.