Today’s Gospel passage is emphatic that Jesus taught the people with authority, not like the Scribes!It might sound strange to suggest that the Scribes did not teach with authority, but the reality is that their teaching had too much of human power but very little of moral authority – it was bereft of compassion and was programmed for selfish gain. Moreover, they did not practice what they taught. Conversely, Jesus was forthright and used his teaching to edify rather than put people down; he challenged the people to repent but with empathy, and he lived what he taught. That is authority!
Brothers and sisters, authority is much more than the right to command and extract compliance from other people. Authority is not the power to hire and fire people, and to instil fear in others. Authority is not the power to bully others or to deny them what is their due! Rather, authority is the ability to move the hearts and minds of people and win their trust, to make them willingly emulate our example – even when it is not convenient or popular to do so. Authority is much more than an instrument of law, it flows from an interior conviction – something that derives from one’s uprightness, consistency of character, and empathy. That is authority!
Jesus’ authority flows from his fellowship with the Father. In the First Reading, Moses tells the people that they must listen to the Prophet that God will raise for them in the future. Jesus is that prophet, the one who teaches with authority. He sees and says things as they really are as he reveals the mind of God to the people. As sharers in the common priesthood of Christ’s faithful through our baptism, we all are imbued with the authority to preach and to teach, to reconcile and to heal. It is the authority to comfort the broken-hearted, to speak up for the voiceless, and to defend the dignity and the integrity of the human person – born or unborn, young or old, sick or healthy. That is authority!
Therefore, everyone in authority is invited today to make an introspection and see how well the authority is being managed. As priests, do we serve the people with diligence and humility or do we lord it over them? Do we see our vocation as God’s work or as a means self-aggrandisement/gratification? As religious men and women, how faithfully do we live our vows and promises? As parents, do we exercise our authority faithfully by leading our children with a Christian example? As teachers, do we fulfil our duties with sincerity and the fear of God or do we seek means to take advantage of our students/wards? As politicians, are we governing with fairness and equity or have we been blinded by nepotism and the love of lucre, so much that we have become a curse upon the people we are meant to govern? As healthcare workers, are we putting human life and dignity first or our bank accounts? Let everyone take a deep breath today to see whether they are acting with Jesus’ kind of authority or not.
Our Lord never scared people away nor threatened anyone into following him. He simply spoke from his own convictions, and his words touched people’s hearts. His words opened the eyes of the blind; his words made the dumb speak; his words made the crippled walk again; his words exorcised demons; his words calmed the storms; his words took away the guilt and shame of sin from people; and his words raised the dead. That is authority and it has little to do with physical strength. In his weakest moment, as Jesus was taking his very last breath on the Cross, the pagan centurion said of him:“Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt.27:54). Also, in the Emmaus story, as soon as Jesus disappeared at the breaking of the bread, the two disciples exclaimed: “Did not our hearts burn within us?” (Luke 24:32) That is authority!
Dear friends, imagine how the possessed man in today’s Gospel would have felt after the dramatic encounter with Jesus. He had been tormented by the devil for years and his family and friends could not help him. He stood no chance of a normal, peaceful existence having been deprived of his freedom and dignity. His only hope in all of this was a direct intervention by God – a miracle. But with a simple command Jesus silences and expels the demon. In an instant, the man was free and whole again – that is authority!Now, if that was 2000 years ago, let us fast-forward to April 7th, 2005, the eve of St. John Paul II’s funeral. The City of Rome was filled with an estimated 5 million pilgrims who had come for the funeral Mass. Thousands of people spent the night in the streets – in lines stretching kilometres – just to view the body of a frail old man. And wherever they were gathered, all over the city, all night long, there were priests hearing confessions in improvised, outdoor confessionals, with signs around their necks or hanging from their chairs listing the languages they spoke. All through the night God was proving his love, gently raining his mercy and healing through the sacrament of Reconciliation. That is authority!
Brethren, Jesus Christ comes to bring new life and hope to us today, if only we would submit to him. His authority does not subsist in wealth, success, pleasure, or popularity in this life. In fact, it entails taking up our cross every day. But then we gain a real, personal, and everlasting friendship with God. That is what we are made for and it is the deepest longing of the human heart. This friendship includes the forgiveness of sins, wisdom, peace of heart amidst life’s struggles, and the hope of heaven. That is authority!
May the Lord who has called us all to our different vocations, as priests, parents, teachers, carers, employers, students, etc. help us with the humility and courage to always speak and act with authority in the manner of Christ! Amen!