Whose Authority?
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Having attended so many seminars, conferences, and lectures, I have become familiar with the routine of introducing the guest speaker. Some of those who are assigned this honor take a long time reading the guest’s curriculum vitae and extolling the speaker’s accomplishments. I know of some speakers who have resorted to preparing their own introductions to make sure that what is read is substantial and short enough.. The purpose of this exercise is to establish the authority of the lecturer.

Authority (exousia) as used in the Bible may be defined as the lawfulness or rightfulness of the exercise of power. A lecturer who intends to influence his audience exercises power. His credentials are established by the one who introduces him. Although his authority to teach has been initially built up, his performance as a speaker will either leave his audience elated or disappointed. His authority will be boosted or diminished.

Action starter: On any contentious issue, ask what the Church teaches.

One’s authority is established in many ways. One may have it by virtue of birth and inheritance. In oriental cultures, the eldest son or daughter has authority over the younger ones. Some titles such as sultan, chief of the tribe, or lord of the realm, are inherited. Authority is also gained by one’s accomplishments and skills. Many become leaders by their skills of organization, negotiation, and tenacity to reach their goals. A person may gain authority by knowledge or by the position he occupies. Still others are able to exercise authority by force of personality or charm.

The gospel reading this Sunday shows the astonishment of those who heard Jesus, “for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes (Mk. 1:22).” He not only taught but “With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. (v. 27).” This authority would be manifested in other ways: he forgave sins (Mk. 2:5 12), he calmed the storm (Lk. 8:24). He gives life ( Jn. 17:2) . This authority would always be claimed by Jesus as one given to him by his Father (Mt. 28:18, Jn. 5:19). Jesus was exercising what people of his time understood as Messianic authority.

If we were living during the time of Jesus and were among his audience, we would be struck not by his charm or pleasing personality. We would be drawn to listen to him by the force of his convictions, the strength of his personality, the compassion that flows from him, the newness of his message, and an X-factor we would have difficulty describing. This X-factor, he would repeatedly tell his disciple is his oneness with his Father. This is the Divine factor.

In the presence of Jesus we would be placed in a crossroad of choice. Should I believe or not? Should I follow or not? Does he make sense or not? Will this way of life be meaningful or not? Even today, we come face to face with choices as to whose authority to follow - that of Jesus, as taught in the Gospel and continued in the Church or that of other authorities. These other authorities could be cultures, philosophies, lifestyles, and trends. They could even be enshrined in laws and customs. Let us take some cases: Jesus says “Forgive,” the world around us says, “Take revenge.” Jesus says, “Give to the poor,” the culture says, “Take from the poor.” Jesus says, “Serve”,” but people prefer, “Be served.” Jesus says, “Peace I give you.” and leaders of nations say, “War.” Jesus says, “Share,” but our own instinct for security tells us, “Hoard.”

Whose authority do we follow? That of Jesus, that of the world, or that of our own inclinations? This post-modern period is characterized by a multiplicity of choices, where the criterion between a good choice and a bad choice is blurred. For Jesus, the criterion is clear, “Is it pleasing to God? (Jn.:29).” The more empirically-minded may ask for measurable criteria. Perhaps, those measurable criteria would be what Jesus told John’s disciples when they asked, “Are you he who is supposed to come or shall we look for another? (Lk. 7:19).” He answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind received their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them (Lk. 7:22).”

For our Lord Jesus, the source of all authority is God his Father. His own authority stems from oneness with his Father. Likewise, a faithful disciple of Jesus cultivates this oneness with God and listens to the voice of the Good Shepherd, a voice that come to us today in prayer, in reading the scriptures, and in listening to the teachings of the Church.