The sound of someone’s voice can be very unique and distinctive to their personality and nature.
In popular culture and media, we have easily recognizable and familiar vocal personalities.
“The Voice” of the Kitchener Rangers on 570 radio – Don Cameron and Mike Farwell…
“The Voice” of the “The Vinyl Café” on CBC radio – Stuart McLean…
“The Voice” of Canadian national TV news – Peter Mansbridge, or Lloyd Robertson, Lisa Laflamme ….
We can almost hear their voices speaking in our ear as I mention their names! So distinctive and well-known are they.
Some voices are stern, intense, severe in nature, in that when we hear them, something about their quality, tone and volume makes us sit up, pay attention, and even cower in fear and submission. Intimidating.
The voice of our mom or dad disciplining us when we as young kids got into trouble…
A police officer pulling us over, and giving us a speeding ticket; demanding to see our licence, insurance and registration papers…
Jesus is speaking in the synagogue in Capernaum, teaching and preaching as rabbis customarily would do – unpacking, explaining, elucidating the Hebrew Scriptures for the people.
The author of this passage in the Gospel of Mark, clearly and emphatically describes Jesus as a speaker who teaches with authority; unlike any other.
Twice in the passage does the word “authority” appear.
The crowd is “astounded” – that’s a strong adjective – at Jesus’ teaching.
No dozing off when Jesus speaks!
His “fame” spreads throughout the region. Wow.
The author holds Jesus up, setting him apart from any other speaker or teacher.
So Jesus speaks with authority. But not the stern, severe kind.
This authority is one which is freeing, liberating, renewing.
The author uses the Greek work for “authority” which means something similar to “being freed”, “being allowed, permitted to something new.”
There’s this sense here of unhindered new freedom, new life, new beginnings.
Jesus speaks with an “authority” that is life-giving, hopeful, renewing, prompting in his listeners the beginning of personal transformation, a change in outward behaviour for the better, and a hope for new beginnings.
It must’ve been quite a powerful experience to hear Jesus speak, to be in his presence.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had in an archive somewhere a sound recording of Jesus’ voice, as we do for example of Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963 when King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
But obviously we don’t.
We do have a composite picture of what Jesus would likely have looked like; his facial appearance.
Based on archeological discoveries of Galilean skeletons in the 1st century, scholars have been able to draw up a forensic reconstruction of Jesus’ face.
(You can see this depiction in the Lutheran Study Bible you can get at Augsburg.)
When you see the composite drawing of his face, you realize his facial appearance isn’t anything special, nothing spectacular, nothing extraordinarily different.
His ruddy and tanned appearance, with short-cropped hair and beard was similar to other typical 1st century Galilean males.
He blended in with everyone else…
His voice however … well … his voice was what stuck out as special.
But here’s the thing.
What made Jesus such a compelling and persuasive speaker was something much more than merely the sound and quality of his voice.
It had to do with the fact that his speech, was firmly and solidly backed up by his actions, by his behaviour, by the way he treated and related with others.
And no one else – no other rabbi, teacher or scribe – was able to achieve that complete synchronicity between word and deed, between walking the talk, between preaching and doing.
Even within the course of this short scripture passage, we see the harmony between word and deed: as Jesus is speaking, he also engages in the act of healing; healing the man “with the unclean spirit.”
He walks the talk. Does what he says.
We’re not like that, exactly.
In each one of us, there will always be a disconnect between what we say and what we do.
As Luther in the 16th century said, even after being baptized, washed and immersed in the purifying waters of baptism, the “Old Adam is a very good swimmer.”
Our sin clings closely to us, never completely leaving us.
And so we continually struggle against vulnerabilities.
But that’s why we need to keep looking to Jesus, clinging to him, following him, learning about him.
He’s the ultimate authority, the one God points to and says, “Listen to Jesus! My beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.”
The spiritual life is all about learning …
… how continually to fall into the arms of God’s grace and mercy,
… how completely to rest in, cling to, and grasp a hold of God,
… allowing God’s Spirit to begin transforming and renewing us from the inside out.
And eventually, from time to time, in unexpected times and places, we too can come close to that synchronicity between word and deed, that harmonizing with God’s good Spirit.
Mother Teresa – short and underwhelming in stature – wouldn’t be someone we’d immediately point to as some stellar, popular public speaker, with a unique voice to capture and mesmerize the crowds.
But interestingly, people who’ve heard her speak have been moved and inspired as never before.
And they’ve wondered:
Why is it that Mother Teresa can stand up before crowds of thousands, and repeat simple New Testament phrases, and seemingly pious clichés, and still blow people away?
She doesn’t say anything new. Nothing we haven’t heard before.
“Jesus loves you,” she’d assure her listeners.
“We’re all sons and daughters of God,” she’d proclaim.
“We have to love Jesus’ poor,” she’d admonish.
Simple, unadorned, words.
And yet people would walk away renewed, transformed, refreshed.
She was no trained orator, no priest or pastor, no well-educated, mutli-degreed notary.
Her authority came from …
… her servant hood lifestyle,
… her service to and solidarity with those who suffered,
… and therefore her goodness, which shone through everything she said.
When it comes down to it, it’s our actions that speak louder than anything else.
Do we genuinely care for others, speak well of them, guard their reputations, refrain from gossiping and speaking poorly about people behind their backs?
Do we extend ourselves in compassionate service to those in need, standing in solidarity with human suffering, respecting and honouring others, even if they’re very different from us?
Resting in the Spirit of God and looking to Jesus, we too can speak, and act, with authority.