There Is Nothing More Threatening to an Uncertain Man than a Man Who Is Certain.
The First Tuesday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Samuel 1: 9-20.
• [Responsorial] I Samuel 2: 1, 4-8..
• Mark 1: 21-28.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Hilary, Bishop & Doctor of the Church; and, the Commemoration of Felix of Nola, Priest & Martyr.*
Lessons from the common "In médio…" of a Doctor, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• II Timothy 4: 1-8.
• Psalm 36: 30-31.
• Matthew 5: 13-19.
If a Mass for the commemoration is taken, lessons from the common "Lætábitur…" for a Martyr not a Bishop:
• II Timothy 2: 8-10; 3: 10-12.
• Psalm 36: 24-26.
• Matthew 10: 26-32.
9:13 PM 1/14/2020 — In our Gospel lesson today, we are reminded how the Evangelists repeatedly mention the surprised reactions that our Lord’s teaching provokes in people. From last Thursday’s Gospel, in which our Lord makes His first visit to preach in His home-town synagogue: Saint Luke tells us that they “were astonished at the gracious words which came from His mouth” (Luke 4: 22 Knox). Today’s lesson from Mark, which follows chronologically directly from Thursday’s, opens with the statement that “they were amazed by his teaching, for he sat there teaching them like one who had authority, not like the scribes” (Mark 1: 22 Knox). At the end of the lesson, after Jesus has cured a possessed man, they again remark, “What is this word of his? See how he has authority and power to lay his command on the unclean spirits, so that they come out!” (v. 36 Knox). That’s twice the word “authority” is used.
It isn’t hard to figure out what that means: He’s different from the Scribes and Pharisees because He pronounces His doctrine with vitality and certainty. He doesn’t teach mere opinion, nor does He show any sign of uncertainty or doubt. He doesn’t speak, like the prophets, in God’s name because He is not just another prophet; He speaks in His own Name because He, Himself, is God. He teaches people the divine mysteries and the nature of human relationships, and He backs up His teaching with His miracles. He explains His doctrine simply and vigorously because He speaks of what He has seen (cf. John 3: 11), and He doesn’t give long-winded explanations. He demonstrates nothing, He doesn’t try to justify Himself, He doesn’t argue. He teaches! And He teaches with authority.
I can only guess that this is what made our Lord’s words so irresistible to so many people. It’s also what made His words so threatening to the powers that be; after all, the corruption that infects people in power hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Once someone has power and authority over others, one becomes obsessed with holding on to it, and one of the ways you hold on to it is to never “box yourself in,” never paint yourself into a corner, always hedging your bets by leaving yourself open to any number of possibilities. Is that not what we usually despise in politicians? The candidate for office is asked a question in an interview or a debate, and instead of directly answering the question he or she talks in circles, trying to cover all the bases and avoid making a gaff, with the result that he spews out a plethora of words which don’t really mean anything, but which protects him from potential criticism. The Scribes and the Pharisees of our Lord’s time were the same, which is why, when our Lord comes along and teaches, as we hear today, “with authority”—that’s to say, with certainty—people are impressed … because there is nothing more threatening to an uncertain and cautious person than someone who is certain.
It used to be the teaching of the Church—and, in fact, still is—that all authority derives from God. Well, Jesus is God, so it seems that those in authority, both in the secular sphere and especially in the Church, would do well to imitate our Blessed Lord by not trying to straddle the fence and speak cautiously. If the world and the Church need anything today, it’s solid and sound teaching which doesn’t speculate, doesn’t opine, doesn’t worry about who’s offended, but simply and impartially declares what has been revealed.
For our part, we must consider our own relationship to the truths of the faith which our Lord teaches us. When we open the Holy Gospel, we must remember that what’s written there—the words and deeds of Christ—is something that we should not only know, but live. Everything, every point that is told there, has been gathered, detail by detail, for us to make it come alive in the individual circumstances of our lives. In the Gospel we should not simply find the life of Jesus, but we should also find our own lives there as we strive, day by day, to reproduce His life within us. After all, if our Lord is going to teach us with certainty and authority, then we must resolve to listen to Him with the humility and docility of good students.
* Hilary of Poitiers was one of the most able and eloquent opponents Arianism. He was exiled by the heretical emperor, and died in AD 368. In the ordinary form, his memorial was observed yesterday.
The commemoration of Felix is unique inasmuch as it seems he actually survied his "martyrdom." He was a prest at Nola near Naples in Italy. He sold off his possessions in order to give to the poor, but was arrested and tortured for his Christian faith during the persecution of the Roman emperor Decius (r. 249–51). He was believed to have died a martyr's death during the persecution of Decius or Valerian (c. 253), but is now listed in the General Roman Calendar as a confessor of the faith, who survived his tortures.