When I was a kid, my mum used to work very hard all week, and by the weekend she was really exhausted. Sunday was her only day off, so she slept longer than usual. Mass was always the most important event for her on a Sunday. But when I was a child, I wasn’t an eager mass goer. Sometimes, if I woke up before my mum, I kept quiet. But not for her benefit. I kept quiet for me. You know why? The last mass started 12:30, so if I kept quiet and mum slept till noon, we couldn’t get the church. A very cunning plan! But it hardly ever worked.
Today’s gospel takes place in a synagogue. For Jewish people a synagogue is a place, where God’s word is read, listened to and meditated upon; it’s also a place of worship. Jews gather in a synagogue every Saturday to observe the Sabbath. It’s their form of worship, like Sunday mass for us.
Let’s go in with Jesus and his disciples to this synagogue in Capernaum. We find many good men and women, who come to listen to readings from the Scriptures and to a sermon by the synagogue chairman. They come to find comfort and hope for themselves in difficult times. Today a well known teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, is delivering a sermon instead of the chairman. People are listening to him with increasing curiosity, because they have never heard anybody teaching like Jesus. For many years they have listened to their chairman. And here, suddenly, is something new. Something similar happened over the last three weeks out the road, in Tombae, Tomintoul and Chapeltown, where I said mass instead of Fr Colin. The result, of course, was completely different from the synagogue in Capernaum. Our parishioners out the road realised, how lucky they are to have Fr Colin as a parish priest.
When I read today’s gospel one thing particularly astonished me. In the synagogue, among the many good people, we find a man, possessed by a devil. How can that be possible in a sacred place, where God is worshipped? I think that the man was probably a well known local resident. He probably went to the synagogue every Saturday. What happened this Saturday to make this unclean spirit reveal itself?
I see two possibilities. They are connected. The first one concerns people like me, the priests. Listen to this short story. Once a priest was leading a mission in a parish. After the sermon an old woman came to the sacristy to thank him for the homily. She was crying, because she was so moved. The priest asked her which part of his sermon had affected her most. She replied: “Father, when you pulled out your handkerchief it was clean and white. And I thought: that my soul is dirty and black. Then, when you blew your nose right into the microphone it sounded like the trumpets of doomsday”. We, priests, must do everything we can to preach with power. That doesn’t mean we need to shout. The power comes from the Spirit of God. Today’s gospel makes me ask questions about my own ministry.
The second idea concerns all of us. Going to a place of worship, like synagogue or church, is not enough to change a person’s life. Look at me – I go to church every day, sometimes two or three times a day. And what does it achieve? There is a danger that it might achieve absolutely nothing. Spending one hour once a week in church might make us feel, that we have fulfilled our Christian obligation. But our visit to church demands more. We need to be engaged with God and with each other. Think of your health: you examine it and – if something goes wrong – you look for a cure. A visit to the pharmacy is not enough. If you want to live you need to find the right medicine, and take it.