What authority is for the Christian

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

In the time of Jesus, the Jews had two centers where they celebrated and nurtured their faith: the temple in Jerusalem and the local synagogue. The temple was the only place where they offered sacrifices and\or ritual offerings. It was in the synagogue where they gathered every Saturday (Sabbath) and conducted religious services which consisted of readings (with commentary) from the Law and the Prophets, and prayers. The readings were done by well-instructed members of the assembly or by visitors who were experts in Scripture.

In the gospel reading (Mk. 1:21-28), Mark tells us that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. What He taught the assembly, Mark does not tell us. But he tells us of the effect of His teaching: they "were astonished at His teaching" because He taught "as one having authority and not as the scribes."

This remark of Mark calls to mind what Moses said in the first reading (Deut. 18:15-20), "And the Lord said to me, 'I will raise up for them a prophet ... and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it." This was God's response to the clamor of the people not to "hear the voice of the Lord, ... lest we die." This promised prophet was now teaching with authority in the synagogue - Jesus Himself!

Jesus' teaching with authority becomes even more obvious when we compare His approach with that of the prophets. While the prophet prefaces his teaching with "Thus says the Lord God...," Jesus says directly "I say to you...." He does this because He speaks on the authority of His Father: "The word you hear is not mine; it comes from the Father who sent me" (Jn. 15, 24b).

Finally, Jesus taught with authority because He lived what He preached, unlike the Scribes and Pharisees. Of them Jesus said, "You impose laws and burdens on people which you yourselves don't follow."

Then Mark went on with his narrative. Present in the synagogue was "a man with an unclean spirit." Parenthetically, if the devil could find his way into the synagogue where Jesus was, how much easier it would be for him to enter our hearts? The possessed man then cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" Though coming from the devil himself, it is a question we can appropriate for ourselves while at prayer. Along this line, I recall an item I read recently which said that when in prayer we move from "Lord, give me!" to "Lord, use me!", then our prayer has gone up a notch higher.

But the questioning of the possessed man did not end there. He asked further, "Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are -- the Holy One of God!" Destroy the devil and all that he represented? Definitely yes. Destroy us? Definitely no. Rather, Jesus came to restore - thus the cripple walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, the hungry food, the thirsty drink, the sinner forgiveness, etc., - all signs of the breaking in of God's Reign and the destruction of the devil's. And all who accept in their hearts and minds His commandment of love and live accordingly will be rewarded with eternal happiness.

Finally, in ordering the devil, "Be quiet! Come out of him!" which he immediately obeyed, Jesus teaches us how to deal with the devil in times of temptation: to run to Jesus for help so He will drive the devil away from us.

After this, Mark again focuses on the reaction of the people: "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.'" He concludes by saying that Jesus' fame "spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee."

Many of us hold positions of authority - parents, employers, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, etc. It will all do us well to practice what we preach, otherwise we lose our moral authority over those placed under our care. Then we become no different from the Scribes and Pharisees whose teachings Jesus asked the people to accept but whose deeds He asked them not to immolate because they did not practice what they preached.

Moreover, we profess that we are Christians. By definition, a Christian is one who accepts Jesus as Savior and obeys His teachings and examples. Are we and do we?

Obviously, by ourselves we do not have the power to drive demons out of possessed people. But we can teach with authority - when we accept the teachings of Jesus and carry them out in our lives. When we do so, then we are true to our calling as Christians, become Jesus' witnesses in our homes, work-places and the larger community and, in the process, contribute our share to make Jesus' "fame spread everywhere."