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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Just because you can doesn't mean you should

In our Gospel reading we hear that Jesus goes into the temple and starts to teach people. The leaders in the Synagogue (and presumably those taught) “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” You see, typically, Jewish leaders would (and still do) cite multiple other passages of Scripture and then other interpreters’ interpretations, in order to support their own interpretation of a passage of Scripture. Theologians and priests do this today in the Church. Human interpretation is just that: it’s an interpretation, inferred from other interpretations, gathered from probable sources. In other words, all human interpretation deals in degrees of probability, not in certainty. 

Jesus on the other hand, teaches without any deference to any authorities, as if he is authority itself. And as we will come to learn, Jesus Christ isn’t just the promised prophet who will speak God’s word to people, Jesus is the Word, the fulfilment of God’s Word, God’s being come into the world. 

So right here, Jesus draws a sharp distinction between himself and any other religious leader: I don’t rely on any other interpreters. I am the one who makes meaning out of you. Now imagine you’re a Jewish (or hey, a Christian) leader for a moment. What would your first thought be? Quite likely: who do you think you are? Show me your evidence. 

Sure enough, there’s an agent of Satan in the Synagogue, a man with an unclean spirit. He yells out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus calls out the unclean spirit, tells it to be quiet and to come out of the man. And it obeys. EVIDENCE! Those in the Synagogue who might have been skeptical are now truly astounded. His teaching wasn’t just gum flapping words. He wasn’t pretending to have authority. He wasn’t just speaking the faith. He embodies the power of faith in God; a power that can overcome all evil; a power that bridges the separation - where evil temporarily reigns - between human beings and God. He overcomes it and invites those who are willing to follow, to live that reality instead of the world passing away where they believe they must bow to the broken ways of this world to find life and meaning. 

Come to me all you that are weary and carrying the heavy burden of sin: of a world of sin that causes sickness, loss, suffering, frustration, exhaustion, violence, anger, injustice, and war. Come to me, lay your knowledge, your presumption, your possessions, your frustrations down, and I will give you healing sight to see the world not with mere human optimism, but with hope that comes from the maker and redeemer of all things: God himself. 

That is what the demon saw in Jesus, and shuddered before; and that is what the Jews in the temple saw and were astonished by. It is what Jesus’s disciples encountered, as we heard last week, when they determined they should drop even their jobs, their vocations, their summer plans, to follow Jesus. Let go of your own ways, the nets that you fret over day after day, and I will show you your true mission. Yeah, you’ll probably have to go back to fishing when I’m gone, but you’ll never spend another day of your work life seeing the world as you did after following me. You will see reality completely differently. That is what the Jews saw in the temple that day.

This is why we hear Paul exhorting the Corinthians to see the world differently. You must begin to see the world in terms of participating in God’s mission of gathering other people to him. If God’s mission - and by extension - your mission as his followers is to gather other people to him, then your first question in participating is not, ‘what’s in this for me, what do I have to do to get to heaven.’ Your first question is: ‘how, by my works of faith, do I help other people to experience God.’ 

Paul has a specific example here: “eating meat sacrificed to idols.” Paul says, ‘listen folks, we know that there are no other gods, no other forces that can compare to God who created and who will redeem all things.’ So we’re free to eat whatever meat we want because we know idols have no power over us. But you know what, not everyone is there yet. So instead of exercising your knowledge that there are no idols, instead, exercise your wisdom - grounded in compassion and patience and love - recognizing that other people might be tempted or might not understand, or might need help or time, or care to know who God is before they could eat such meat without being misled by those who do worship idols, or who might feel they are defying God by eating meat sacrificed to idols. 

Paul’s point here is this: although Jesus Christ knows everything there is to know, in his compassion, mercy and love, he did not act on this knowledge. If he did, he would destroy every single human being who participates in evil things on a pretty daily basis. Instead, Jesus embodied the wisdom of God’s love and compassion, his patience, and most of all, his judgment. In self restraint, in self control, in seeing each person as God's own - weak, frail, faulty and struggling - and acting with mercy even with enemies, he opened the way for others to wake up and come out of their old skins/their demons/their old ways of doing things, to take hold of his life, to receive and share God's love with others. Are you willing to undertake that mission? AMEN

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