by Father Walter Ray Williams
Fourth Sunday of the Year, B
If only people would take the time to actually read the Gospels! What an eye-opener it would be for them! How different is the real Jesus Christ, revealed as He is in nearly the only records we have of Him – how different He is from so many present-day, opportunistic representations of Him! Take today’s Gospel for example: what struck the people of that time was the refreshing realization that this Man, Christ, unlike so many others, actually spoke with authority. And proved His authority, over and over again, by the fact that His enemies were unable to rebut or refute Him; the demons too were subject to His authority: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Our Lord’s response to the demonic was simply to dismiss them – out of the way!, you petty expressions of spiritual rebellion against God. I really can’t be bothered with your nonsense.
Authority. That’s the mark of our Lord that is so often missing in so much commentary about Him. He spoke, He taught with authority. How unlike what we are used to: so many voices clamoring for our attention (usually in order to sell us something, whether yet another gadget or some twisted ideology). Christ is so totally other than all that. When reading His words, one never gets the impression that He is vying for favor, seeking to garner votes, or competing in a popularity contest. And the people of His time immediately realized that.
Christ spoke with authority, because He spoke the truth, lived the truth, died for the truth and rose again from the dead in order to reveal to the world the all-conquering might of the truth: Truth Himself bearing witness to the truth. Again, we all need to pay closer attention to the Gospels themselves if we would really know Christ. I offer you, along with today’s Gospel reading, the – at first – seemingly trivial example of the following. We know that our Lord spent the first thirty or so years of His life in anonymity in Nazareth, where, we presume, He worked along with His foster father, Joseph, as a carpenter. But the Gospels speak of only one thing, one object that Jesus actually ever constructed with His hands, and that was a leather whip with which He ran the money changers out of the sacred precincts of the Temple.
That kind of authority. “By what authority do you do these things,” His enemies interrogated Him. And our Lord’s response was to point to His upcoming Passion and Resurrection. “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” One just cannot fight against truth and win. Try to kill it, silence it, bury it, and it will only rise again to victory.
And this very authority our Lord bequeathed to His Church (as recorded in the Gospels) – to carry on the great mission of proclaiming the truth about God, revealed in Jesus Christ and preserved in His Church for all time. That very authority that cleansed the temple, healed the sick, spoke and lived the truth and which could not be bothered with the ultimately silly bravado of Satan – that very authority Christ has handed on to His Church.
Strange then that so many Catholics would oppose that very authority. It is not infrequent that I am challenged by self-anointed sources of “authority” (evidently higher than that of Christ and His Church) – challenged along the lines of something like, “If you,” they say to me as a priest, “would only have the courage to stand up to the Church and espouse this or that dissenting cause….” Yeah sure, that takes real courage in today’s world: a priest challenging the very thing he swore a sacred oath to believe, uphold and defend. No, that is not courage; it is rather, obviously, treachery. And we all know what most traitors, spies, really work for – money, popularity, acceptance among the perceived elite, high office, etc. – the very things that our Lord Himself repeatedly renounced.
No, it takes courage to stand up for the truth, a Christian bravery that knows where such a stand, in this world, often leads to, and that’s Calvary. It is easy these days to disagree with the Church and profit by – like so many of these telegenic priests who only don their Roman collar when appearing on some talk show to attack Catholic beliefs to the nodding approval of some half-wit facilitator and the applause of the mob.
How different our Lord, Who spoke with authority. And that’s the only authority the Church has, that I as a priest have standing before you, the very authority of Christ handed on explicitly to His Apostles and passed down through the ages by the continuing line of episcopal ordination. Pope, bishops, priests, of themselves, nothing, as far as authority is concerned; but in speaking with and for the Church to carry on the mission of Christ to proclaim the truth of the Gospel until the end of time and to renounce and expose all that would militate against that Gospel message, the truth, they share in the very authority of Jesus Christ.
It is not courageous to commit the heinous crime of treachery and decorate it in the trappings of self-appointed authority. It takes courage to stand up for the truth. And for the Christian it takes great courage to stand up against a culture that no longer even acknowledges the reality of truth; everything has become relative to the prized desires of a decadent society. How has it come to this, I ask, that so many in today’s society define “truth” for themselves by what’s in accordance with their chosen lifestyle; rather than conforming their lifestyle to the standard of truth? But the truth will win, and the evidence of the collapse of all the efforts against it is all around us. And so what the world needs is not vapid intonings of agreement and compromise, but rather the authoritative voice of the truth, that truth who is our Lord and Savior, a truth He Himself promised would set us free. The truth always, ultimately wins: our Lord died for the truth in obedience to the will of the Father to save us from the lie of sin; but He rose again. The truth always wins.