It’s Super Bowl Sunday, of course, our biggest and brightest non-official national holiday. Something like 100 million people will watch the Seahawks take on the Patriots; I will be one of them, and since I don’t like either team, you don’t have to worry about me saying today’s Mass for either one of them. The Seahawks are remarkably good; they are somewhat new to the elite group of franchises in the NFL but they are built to last. Their opponent has been the elite of the elite for the better part of this millennium, but the Patriots might be getting a little long in the tooth. My hope is that we are seeing a new East Coast – West Coast rivalry being built, because who doesn’t love a good rivalry?
Today’s gospel lesson is, believe it or not, all about a first-century rivalry. St. Mark is, characteristically, not much help in fleshing out this rivalry. We’ve talked about it before, but Mark likes to use the word immediately; he used it twice in just the short lection we just heard. Jesus immediately did this and immediately something else happens. Mark doesn’t dwell on details, so we have to slow down to take it all in.
And so Jesus arrives in Capernaum, where He set up shop after John the Baptist had been arrested and Galilee became untenable. Immediately, which seems in this case to be more of a feeling than a time stamp, Jesus goes into the synagogue and begins to preach. “The ruins of this synagogue (by the way) have been discovered and there is even talk of restoring the building since the stones are in a good state of preservation. J esus both taught and preached in the Jewish synagogues as opportunity was offered by the chief or leader of the synagogue. The service consisted of prayer, praise, reading of scripture, and exposition by any rabbi or other competent person. Often Paul was invited to speak at such meetings.”1
But in this case, the people were, in Mark’s words, astonished; struck out of their senses, overjoyed, awed by what Jesus had to say and, more importantly, by the Man Himself. Most of the rabbis, the teachers, or the scribes, when they taught they expounded on the teachings that came before as much as what the Scriptures themselves had to say. They preached on sermons rather than the word of God. Now, let me say that this is not a terrible way of doing things, and in fact, probably kept them out of trouble more than once. One of my mentors, when talking about sermon writing, told us that a teaching “is not truly yours until you’ve stolen it from someone better than you,” and so it’s smart, in some ways, to reference the masters.
But the scribes, they had gone around the bend a bit. They had “set aside the word and will of God by their traditions and petty legalism (Mark talks about that later in his gospel). They… made false interpretations to prove their punctilious points of external etiquette to the utter neglect of the spiritual reality.”2 They did all of this to make themselves superior, to set themselves apart, to the detriment of the people.
And then came Jesus. “The people noticed at once that here was a personality who got his power (authority) direct from God, not from the current scribes. Mark omits much, and is in many ways a meager Gospel, but it makes a distinctive contribution to the evangelic history in showing by a few realistic touches (this one of them) the remarkable personality of Jesus”…The chief controversy in Christ’s life was with these scribes, the professional teachers of the oral law and mainly Pharisees. At once the people see that Jesus stands apart from the old group. He made a sensation in the best sense of that word. There was a buzz of excitement at the new teacher that was increased by the miracle that followed the sermon.”3
Teaching with the authority of God and then doing things only God can do was just too much for the scribes and the Pharisees. They set themselves up against Jesus; they became His chief rivals, their behavior becoming more and more extreme as Jesus’ identity became more and more obvious.
This Super Bowl Sunday might be a good time for us to check and make sure we haven’t sided with the scribes here; to check and see if we’ve become so entrenched in one kind of thinking that we can’t recognize the Lord when He shows up; to make sure that if Jesus comes to us immediately, that we would be His disciples and not His rivals.
1Robertson’s Word Pictures