There are four aspects of powerful preaching displayed by Jesus in this passage. As such, Jesus is not just a powerful preacher himself, but also models what it means to be a powerful and effective preacher.
In using the word “preacher” here we ought to be careful not to reduce preaching merely to what takes place in a church. For surely the clergy have churches in which to preach. But every Catholic parent ought also to learn from Jesus here, for they have the church of their home in which to preach, and the pulpit of the dining room table, the living room, or even the family car. Therefore we must all learn from Jesus’ model of being a powerful preacher and teacher. Note then, three basic qualities of Jesus as a preacher and teacher:
I. PERSONAL - The text says, Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
(The picture at the upper right is a picture of me and fellow parishioners standing of the ruins of the synagogue mentioned here. It is a very moving thing to stand atop the foundational ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached both this sermon and the Bread of Life Discourse. Some of the ruins are later than Jesus’ time but the foundations are clearly from that time. Amazing).
Note that the text says that Jesus spoke “with authority.” The Greek word translated here as “authority” is ἐξουσίαν (exousian) meaning, at its root, “to (speak) out of one’s being or substance.” In other words, one speaks of what he experientially knows. He is not simply quoting what others say, neither is he merely quoting slogans and common sayings.
Jesus is distinguished from the Scribes who were famous for quoting each other and reputable and safe sources only. Of itself, this is good. But if it merely stops there, what makes preaching different from staying home a reading a book?
Too many Christians, including Catholic preachers, are content to live and preach by inference rather than experience. Too many are content to repeat what others have said, rather than to speak out of what they personally know, have seen and experienced.
To preach with authority (exousia) means to be able to proclaim the Word of God with personal knowledge and experience. It means to say, “What the Lord and the Church have always proclaimed, I know personally. For I have tested and experienced the Word of God in the laboratory of my own life, and found it to be true. And now I speak to you, not merely of what others have said, but what I know and experience to be true. Out of substance of my own being (exousia) I announce this truth to you.”
This is what it means to preach personally and with authority (exousia). Jesus did not simply speak or quote what others said. He said what he personally knew.
What of you and me? Are you able to speak with authority? Well, do you know what the Lord is doing in your life? Have you personally experienced the truth of what the Scriptures and the Church have always announced? Or are you just quoting slogans, passages and what others have said? Of course the Scriptures and the authoritative teachings of the Church are the essential beginning and foundation of what we know. But do you know personally? Do you personally know it is true? How? Do you speak to your children of what you know, or merely say “the Church says…”? Clearly you are to say what the Church says, but to teach with authority means you know and have experienced that what the Church says is true, and can personally attest to it. This is the basis of preaching and teaching with authority.
II. PROVOCATIVE – To say that something is “provocative” is to say that it calls forth a response. When Jesus preached, his words did not leave his listeners unmoved. It called forth a response: whether mad, sad or glad.
The text has already pointed out that many were glad. But there is one man who is mad. The text describes his reaction: In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “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!”
Every experienced and authentic preacher knows that, if he preaches effectively, a response will be forth-coming. And while it is natural to want a positive response, every preacher must also be willing to accept that his word may also bring forth anger or ridicule. The Church announces good news but is also a sign of contradiction to a sinful world. Thus every preacher, faithful to the Gospel, must expect some degree of negativity, and even persecution, ridicule and anger.
Jesus’ world angers a demon-possessed man in the congregation and he confronts Jesus, blaming him, in effect, with being hateful, and causing hurt and saying Jesus wants to destroy him. So too, many today react with anger and call the Church hateful, bigoted, intolerant and hurtful even unto destroying lives. But, as we shall see, Jesus does not back down.
The problem in the synagogue is not the word that Jesus proclaims, it is the man’s inner condition. And thus, when the authentic Gospel is proclaimed, the wrath that sometimes follows does not bespeak a problem with God’s Word, but with the listener’s inner condition. Note that the man is demon possessed. That is, his heart and mind are under the influence of Satan, and the sin he inspires. The greatest obstacle to us being able to appreciate and understand the Word of God, is our sin. And the greatest help to appreciating and understanding God’s Word is a docile and humble spirit granted by the grace of God.
A powerful preacher, whether a priest or parent, preaches to provoke a response, whether of joy and consolation, or of repentance and godly sorrow. And to be sure, while no authentic preacher intends or desires a fight or hostile reaction, the fact is, he must be willing to accept such a reaction. For, when someone is accustomed to the darkness, he finds the light harsh, and calls it such. Anyone who preaches the Gospel authentically will both comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable; he will both console and confront (where necessary); he will reassure, but also awaken the need for healing. He will speak the truth in love.
Good preaching provokes a response, and one who hears the Gospel preached with authority cannot come away unchanged.
III. PRODUCING - Powerful and effective preaching brings results. As Jesus preaches, a man is set free. The text says, Jesus rebuked him and said, ““Quiet! Come out of him!”” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The aim or point of the Word of God is not merely to inform but to transform. It’s not enough for the Word of God to be attractive, informative or entertaining. It’s full purpose is to, in power, drive out demons, and to bring God’s grace. Good preaching works to drive out demons of ignorance, sorrow, rebellion and sin. It works to give godly sorrow, joy, hope, confidence, knowledge, courage and conviction. Good preaching changes people’s lives.
IV. PERSEVERING - Note that Jesus did not immediately back down in the face of opposition. He persevered with the opposing man and, by his word drove out the demons afflicting the man. We see the man go through three stages.
- He is mad – for he confronts Jesus
- He is sad – for he struggles and convulses as Jesus works to free him by his word.
- He is glad – for he is set free and able to rejoice with the others.
And thus, every preacher and every parent, every prophet must not easily give up. For it is often the case that people must go through these stages.
In my own life, I can say that there was a time when, afflicted by demons of ignorance, youthful rebellion, and so forth, I would cross my arms and listen angrily to the priest. I was mad. I would often scoff at the “silly priest” who was “trying to tell me what to do.” But after some years of hearing the preaching of the Church, I gradually understood that I had to change. And change does not come easily, and thus came the stage of sad and the time of struggle, learning new virtues, forsaking old vices. And now I can say I am glad, for the Lord has brought me a mighty long way. His preached word is powerful, and when effectively preached, it has the power to transform. And I have experienced transformation.
I am glad that the Church has persevered, that my parents persevered, and that good priests and religious persevered in preaching to me and teaching me. I am glad that my parishioners continue to persevere in witnessing to me and preaching by their lives.
A preached and lived word is powerful indeed. Jesus shows the way, and it is for us to follow his example.
Here is a video that shows how a preached and sung word reaches sinners and draws them to conversion. “Shug” is a preacher’s daughter who in anger (mad) left the Church. Now she weeps for her sins (so does her father weep for his) (Sad), and she gets glad. She looks like the woman at the well leading the Samaritans to Christ. There are five conversion stories going on in this scene all at once, if you know the movie. This song says, God is Tying to Tell You Something!
Here is Jesus preaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum on another occasion.