Did you hear the verbal reactions of the two groups as they encounter Jesus in today’s gospel? First you have those in the synagogue who were first amazed at the power of his teaching. Never before in all their life had they heard the scriptures opened with such clarity and proclaimed in such a way it was as if God was speaking directly to them. You may have had moments like that when you heard a powerful sermon, talk at a day of renewal, retreat bible discussion or even a lector during mass. Then those same people were amazed that the demons obeyed him –– who was this man speaking to them.
The second group encountering Jesus today was the demons who had tormenting a man now sitting in the synagogue. These demons do not question who he is or question his authority for they know him and acknowledge him as the Son of God. They just want to be left alone to continue their work of destroying the very people God is sending Jesus to restore and sanctify.
These reading bring up a question each of us must at one point reflect on and answer – who is Jesus and what is the meaning of his life, death and resurrection for you or I. The first time I even considered that question is early in my own journey when my wife and I first left our home state of Louisiana and moved to Charlotte, N.C. Growing up Catholic in Louisiana did not prepare me for my encounter with individuals who were living their Catholic faith instead of practicing their faith. Those people of St. Ann’s parish believed and their belief could be seen in the way they worshiped. They greeted one another openly and were united as a community. They listened to the Word of God intently and they responded openly. They prayed the prayers and gladly stood before Christ as he fed their hunger to know him and feel his transforming power I knew instantly I was deficient in my belief and shallow in my faith.
Each week as I would go to church, I would sit silently in their presence and wondered how they got to this point in their belief. I knew the prayers I had been taught as a child. But they prayed differently, I knew a prayer of faith but I could see that they prayed with faith. I knew an act of contrition but I could see that they were contrite. I knew an act of love but I could see that they loved without judgment.
I could see they knew the love and mercy of God and all I knew was sin had to be punished. They knew God intimately as one would know their own spouse or children. I knew about God as one who would know from reading a book about God. What makes the difference between understanding God’s love is full of mercy and always wondering if we are pleasing to him.
How is it that day no one knew Jesus and his mission but the demons and they declared who he was so everyone in that synagogue could hear – “we know who you are, the Holy One of God. How is it with all our intellect and learning we continue to wonder if we are good enough to receive what the Son of God offers us? How can we move beyond an intellectual knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God to experience the transforming power flowing from his resurrection?
Does his death and resurrection have any meaning in our lives other than to allow us to call ourselves Christian? Being in the presence of people who were in church because they believed helped me in understanding that there is a difference between a lived faith and blind faith. That was my synagogue moment in encountering Jesus. It was a mystical moment of my own growing desire to not just show up as a member of the church but to become a member of the community of believers. It is and continues to be the call to all of us to encounter Jesus and follow him as disciples.
We need to do more than just say he is the Son of God; we need to believe he came to free us just as he did that man in the synagogue. We need to do more than hear his words or learn about him; we need to experience his power and forgiveness. The simple fact is Jesus came to remove the barrier of sin that exists between us and God. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world are not just words they are a spiritual truth by which we have been restored to glory. That is what those members of St. Ann’s understood that I never realized was even possible. I was a sinner who could not understand forgiveness and they were sinners who completely understood forgiveness.
If you hear nothing else from today’s readings hear the voice of Jesus. He is telling us we must do more than just showing up. We need to allow our hearts to be touched by the voice of God opening us to embrace the one who came to save us.