Mark tells us, in his very first chapter, the people were astonished at what Jesus said and did. ‘Here is a teaching that is new and with authority,’ they said. The word ‘authority’ has a slightly negative taste to it. ‘Authorities’ are sometimes viewed as people who don’t do what they should do or do what that shouldn’t do.

Yet it is beautiful word originally coming from the Latin augere, meaning to grow. Authorities are people who help – or should help – people to grow. Authorities in schools are there to provide the environment where children can learn and develop. They must never be simply controlling. Their task is to enable, to encourage freedom.

Similarly in society generally, ‘the authorities’ – national and local – are there mainly to help people grow, develop and use their freedom. It is not their main job to control – though they do have some controlling to do. There are red and green traffic lights but the point is to keep the traffic moving.

The Pharisees had slipped into control mode. They loved inventing more and more rules and controls. They found it gave them power over the people and they were not interested that it also stunted people’s growth. What thrilled the people, as told in Mark here, is that Jesus swept away this attitude and replaced it with something quite different; freedom to expand their hearts, to grow.

Countless people in the gospels, like Mary of Magdala for example, ditched their old life and found hope and joy in the words and actions of Jesus. They were thrilled and crowded around him ‘treading on one another’ (Luke 12:1), in their enthusiasm. The gospel pages are full of ‘crowds’ attracted by him. They could not get enough of him.

Until … Until he started speaking about the cost of being a disciple. Then they started to go away. They wanted roses but they found roses come with thorns. They did not like that. And this is still the case. Real ‘teaching with authority’ includes embracing the cross ‘daily’. That is when real growth takes place. How pleasant it is to tell people what they want to hear. But it is often not the truth. The people of Mark chapter one had to learn the meaning of the cross. That is the whole point of the dynamic of his gospel. Excitement at first; hard truth later. The centurion, who saw him die, came to understand this (Mark 15:39).

28 January 2024 Sunday 4B Dt 18:15-20 1 Cor 7:32-35 Mk 1:21-28

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