“A while ago I read a charming anecdote involving the great Pope John XXIII. One day the pontiff was having an audience with a group of people, one of whom was the mother of several children. At one point the pope said to this woman, “Would you please tell me the names of your children. I realize that anyone in this room could tell me their names, but something very special happens when a mother speaks the names of her own children.””1
I think the same could be said of a son speaks the name of his father. Something very special can happen, “and maybe it was something like this that the people sensed about Jesus (that day in Capernaum we just heard about). Maybe this is what they meant when they said he had an authority others seemed to lack. The teachers of the law were good at teaching about God. They drew off their book learning and seminary training, they employed their various gifts of oratory and enunciation. And good though they were at this, there always seemed to be a bit of a remove between a given scribe and the God he was talking about. But not so with Jesus. There was an intimacy to his knowledge about God. He spoke as though he had spent a long time personally being with God. Oddly enough, it almost seemed at times like he was speaking as God. Probably no one in Capernaum that day went quite so far as to conclude this was God in the flesh, but when this Jesus fellow talked about God, it was like hearing a mother intone the names of her own children–the love and the personal involvement Jesus had with his subject matter made it clear that this was not coming out of his head so much as his heart.”2
Have you ever seen those Dos Equis commercials with the Most Interesting Man in the World? The actor Jonathon Goldsmith portrays a man who knows performs amazing feats almost daily and who just happens to like Dos Equis beer. Over images of the Most Interesting Man in the World climbing glaciers and entertaining kings a voice solemnly intones things like “If he were to punch you in the face, you’d have to fight off the urge to thank him;” “Sharks have a week dedicated to him;” “If he were to pat you on your back, you’d list it on your resume;” and my personal favorite, “Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact.”
Now I’m not comparing Jesus to the Most Interesting Man in the World, but it seems that St. Mark, in very few words, was saying that there was something about Jesus that made people stand up a little straighter when He was around. Mark tells us that Jesus and His disciples went to synagogue one Sabbath day, and that Jesus, being the hot new traveling rabbi, was the guest preacher that day. Everyone was astonished, Mark says, at what Jesus said. “Who is this guy,” the faithful must have scribbled on their bulletins, He doesn’t talk like the other preachers. His robe is nice, even if it is a little dirty. Even the teenagers were paying attention that day, even they could feel the charge in the room. That charge was a little too much for a man who was sitting in the back. The congregation had seen him before; he had seemed a little off lately, which was excusable considering the fact that he had a demon.
If anyone there that day had forgotten Jesus’ name, the man with the demon was about to remind them: “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.” “Be silent,” Jesus said, “and come out of him!” And the demon, knowing the score, did just that. And when that show was over and the lights came down, what did the people say? “What is this? A new teaching!” A new teaching they said, amazed first by what Jesus had said, amazed again at his casting out of demons with but a word.
The faithful of Capernaum went to synagogue that day not expecting much, or at least not much more than what they had come to expect. Two-thousand years later, too often Christians go to church not expected much, and perhaps expecting less and less as we go along. The Mass might not always give you the tingles and the sermon might be dry; the kids might be fidgety, heck, the adults might be fidgety, your blazer might itch. Most of us go to church not expecting much to happen or maybe even hoping that not much will happen. But just like those gathered that day in Capernaum, we too have the benefit of being the presence of Jesus, of hearing the words of the Word made flesh; we too have the privilege of being near to the Holy One of God, Jesus of Nazareth. And when Jesus is around, anything can happen.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week