4th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

“God’s Authority,” our Gratitude?"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 29th January 2012

The word “authority” in the Concise Oxford Dictionary says, “the power and right to enforce obedience by a person or body especially political or administrative – in our case the institutional Church.  “Authority” is also “an influence exerted on (our) opinion because of (its) recognized knowledge or expertise especially (by) and expert in a subject e.g. an expert on vintage cars; obviously, in our case the greatest of all expert and the fullest of all knowledge about Truth is Jesus Christ.

In today’s Gospel, what is most striking is that Jesus preached with an authority that was never heard of before or experienced by the Jewish community.  When Jesus began to teach . . . His teachings created a deep impression on the crowds in the synagogue because, “unlike the scribes, He taught them with authority.”  Moreover, Jesus proved that He had “real authority” in what He taught by expelling the evil spirits from a man who was possessed by them.

Jennifer Skiff, an American journalist, who shared about her experiences of God in her life, illustrates well what many of us are going through in life as we try to live our faith daily.  I have abstracted and adapted from Jennifer’s “God Stories” book for our needs here.

Jennifer shares, “One of my encounters with God happened when I was thirty-two years old. It was during a time of overwhelming sadness and disappointment in my life.Professionally I was thriving — working as a correspondent for CNN, the biggest news network in the world. But personally I was very unhappy and felt like a failure. I was married for the second time, and for the second time I was planning to divorce.

As I was struggling to cope with all of these, I began experiencing a debilitating pain in my right leg. After months of consultations with doctors who couldn’t determine what was wrong, I was sent to the chief of orthopedics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where it was confirmed that I had a tumor in my bone marrow. I needed to be operated on immediately.  When I awoke from surgery, my doctor told me he had been able to save my leg temporarily, but I did in fact have bone cancer. And although it sounds terrible, I felt a sense of relief knowing I would no longer have to continue on with my life.

And then something strange happened. Within forty-eight hours of my diagnosis, I began receiving cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and gifts of delicious things to eat. I had no idea how so many people had learned I was in the hospital. A person I hadn’t seen since I was a young girl wrote to tell me how I had influenced her life. Notes arrived from different parts of the country from people I didn’t know telling me they were praying for me. My friends and family cried and overwhelmed me with their affection. I was engulfed by a warm blanket of love.

In spite of such overwhelming love, the fact remains that I would soon die of my cancer that is eating me up.  Nearly a week after the surgery, I was in my hospital bed envisioning my funeral when my doctor rushed into my room, breathless.  He looked at me and smiled a big, wide smile and said.  “You know what?  It’s benign!”  (i.e. your cancer is not life threatening.)

“Benign?  What do you mean, ‘benign’? I thought it was malignant” (i.e. life threatening.)  “It was,” he said. “The slide we looked at told us it was malignant, but the lab results have just come back, and they say it’s benign.”


The entire experience was all the proof I needed. God has never been more convincing!  God just wants to make it clear that it is important that I continue on with my life and recognising the abundant blessings that I have, I am now to make Him known in the world in whatever way I can in my life.

Through such miraculous experience of God’s power in her life, Jennifer begins to become more fully aware of how she had been rejecting God in her life or at least not allowing God to take root in her life.  The pattern of her lifestyle in many ways reflects the pattern that many of us in today’s world also tend to adopt.  She says, “We all constantly ask basic, but very important questions about life like, “Why am I here (in this world)?”  “Is there more?”  “Does God exist?”  These questions nag at us incessantly throughout our lives. But the answers are elusive, always just out of reach.


Today we are fact-driven people: we need evidence before we form opinions and often dismiss events that can’t be logically explained.  Yet we desperately want the security that comes with having a future that is certain; that we know of; that we can be in control of. 

The search for such a security in our lives has divided people into two camps: first, those who look for solace in organized-institutional religion and its promise of an afterlife (like the Catholic Church), and second, those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious — they believe their souls are going somewhere, but they’re not sure exactly where. Regardless of what camp you’re in, we all want the same thing. We want confirmation that what we believe is true. We want proof of modern-day encounters with the Divine.

Jennifer adds, “As I now reflect on my life, I realise that I’ve been offered proof of God’s existence at regular intervals through other experiences so profound that they’ve given goose bumps to atheists.  These epiphanies have blanketed me with an inner peace, washing away my fears and giving me hope for the future.  However, the truth remains that the intense joy I feel at these times can still eventually dissipate and I can drift into a safe complacency.  As time passes and life events take their toll, I can still start to question again until yet another unexpected collision with the Divine like a plunge into cold water awakens me and renews my faith. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, Jesus proved to the Jews in the synagogue that He indeed is “the Holy One of God” who taught with authority and wisdom, through the miraculous expelling of evil spirits in the possessed man.  Jennifer in our true story, reminds us that even if God were to perform miracles after miracles in our lives, (which He actually does, if we are only aware of them), we can still drift in to self-complacency and doubt, if we do not value and treasure that Jesus’ Teachings are indeed the only authority that offers us true happiness and eternal life.
If this truth is still not able to convince us, perhaps another illustration may be of help.  There’s a story of a dog which was terribly proud of his ability to run very fast and would often boast this to his friends.  One day, a rabbit appeared; instinctively, he immediately chased after it.  Even as he tried to run as fast as he could, the rabbit finally got away.  This provoked a lot of teasing and ridicule from the other dogs.  To “save face,” he said, “You must remember that I was only running for my dinner, but the rabbit was running for his life!  That’s why he is faster than me. 
A good question from this story for us could be, “Do we treat God as though we are merely running for our dinner and not for our life?”  Is God an optional extra for us or is God an essential truth that we cannot do without?

God has proven countless of times in our lives that His Authority is authentic and has to be respected and upheld at all times.  We are, like Jennifer in our story, not short of experiences of God’s goodness in our lives.  However, I think it is not unreasonable to say that in spite of all that God has done for us, we somehow still taking His Love for granted.  And as Jennifer says, “we still drift into complacency . . . and wait for the next unexpected collision with the Divine . . . the plunge into cold water . . . the next wake up call to renew our faith.

Do we want our children to take us for granted?  We are all God’s children . . . should we not show Him more gratitude . . . after all He created the world, the universe and each and every one of us . . . and has suffered even death on the Cross for us, so that we can gain eternal life . . . should we not be more grateful?

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


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