4 OTB – February 1, 2015 – Deflation and Liberation
Today millions of people will either party or watch the Super Bowl. The allegation that the New England Patriots deflated footballs has not dampened the excitement. But for some the suspicion lingers. We do not know if the coach and quarterback are telling the truth. We do know deflated footballs make them easier to throw, catch and carry.
Historian and theologian, Martin Marty, suggests the deflation issue points to a more important ethical question. He thinks if the New England Patriots are cheating and lying about deflated footballs we need to explore why do they need to do so? 
With so much information available to us on every topic imaginable how do we identify what is true? Has the spouting of falsehoods become so frequent it is accepted as normal behavior. Do we listen only to those who promote our viewpoints that, ironically, are being shaped by those very same sources! If so how can we accept other possibilities? (William James once wrote, “Our view of the world is truly shaped by what we decide to hear.”)
Today’s gospel describes one of the earliest public acts of Jesus. The crowd marveled at his teaching authority and even the demons respected him. What was it that Jesus said or did that was so believable?
The Book of Deuteronomy provides some background. It contains records of Israel receiving the ten commandments along with other religious and civil laws. Like Jonah in last week’s scriptures Moses had to deal with a rebellious people who, even though they were close to the promised land, had lost patience with God and their leaders. Moses said that God would send someone who would deliver to them what was promised.
Much later Jesus accepted this challenge. He believed he was the one to bring peace and justice not only to Jews but all people especially those who are vulnerable and powerless. Mark’s gospel testifies and emphasizes his teaching authority and the role of Jesus in restoring life to God’s creatures.
While some people were suspicious of what Jesus said the man in the story, with an unhealthy spirit, was not. He had been sitting in the synagogue for years and heard nothing from the scribes that would help change anything in his life. Jesus, on the other hand, was announcing a new way to live which countered false prophecies. He was demonstrating God’s victory over evil. One might say he took the air out of the demon.
Scholar Brendan Byrne suggests the demonized man represents everything that holds us back from moving forward with our lives. Jesus’s teachings and the exorcism of the unclean spirit both were acts of liberation.  Jesus freed up the man so he could regain his dignity as a human being.
Who has the credentials and authority to guide us on our spiritual and mental journeys today? According to the Catholic Catechism the authentic teachers in our church are the bishops in concert with the Pope. 
The late Richard McBrien offered another view. In his book Catholicism he wrote the broadest definition of authentic teachers in the church would include the priesthood of the faithful. 
This understanding, that all of God’s people are spiritually mature enough to advance the kingdom of God, to live faithful and just lives, is hard to realize in any religion dominated for so long by singular points of view. Without denying the teaching authority of religious leaders, we realize that God works in all of us. There are many people among us who speak truthfully about the ongoing revelations of God in our lives.
By working together, treating each other with respect, and speaking honestly to one another we will realize that God is walking with us on our journeys. As long as we believe that each of us can do something and say something to make things right, to advance God’s kingdom on earth, unlike footballs … our hopes for the future can never be deflated.
1. Marty, Martin. “Football and Ethics” in Sightings. (University of Chicago Divinity School) January 26, 2015
2. Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000, 44-46
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Allen, TX: Tabor Publishing, 1994) No. 888-92
4. McBrien, Richard. Catholicism. (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1981) 828.