Who Has Authority?
Now that the Christmas season is well behind us and we are in Ordinary Time, the Church liturgical calendar directs us to Sunday gospel passages from the evangelist Mark who starts his narrative with the story of Jesus at the beginning of his public life. Shortly after choosing a few of his first disciples Jesus goes to Capernaum, a location more urban than his hometown of Nazareth. There on the Sabbath he attends a synagogue where a customary service would include prayer, reading from the sacred texts, and a teaching. Leaders of the Synagogue, scribes were not the only teachers; rather any qualified Jewish man from the congregation could be invited to speak. Hence Jesus taught. What he taught we don’t know. There is no reference in the gospel to the lesson that he gave, but instead the gospel stresses that he impressed his hearers in a very different manner than they had ever previously experienced. “They were astonished at his teaching for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). Typically a scribe would base his lesson on traditions of the past, the history and rationale for beliefs and practices, interpretations of the fine points of the Torah. Scribes would spell out what was acceptable and what was not, who would be included and who would be excluded. They were a type of cultural gate keeper.
But Jesus was different from the scribes. Apparently it was not what he said but who he was that moved his listeners so powerfully. He spoke “with authority.” Whatever he said struck their hearts as well as their minds; it moved their wills to want to accept the moral “authority” of the man in front of them. The genuineness of his message was found in its inherent truth, his inherent truth. Years later John’s gospel will confirm that Jesus is “… the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), but first Jesus would demonstrate his authority by healing and forgiving and reaching out to the excluded and welcoming all.
Are there people whom you consider to have authority today? Who are they? What criteria do they meet in your eyes? And what does your choice of heroes say about you?
Sister Janet Moore