Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jesus the True Authority

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

This year, we’ll hear from the Gospel of Mark for much of Ordinary Time.  And thus far, we’ve heard a kind of introduction or set-up to Jesus’ public ministry.  Over the last few weeks, we heard about the ministry of John the Baptist who prepares the way for Jesus.  The baptism of Jesus, in which he is announced as the Son and Lamb of God.  We hear the theme of Jesus’ preaching, the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And we see him call his disciples who would eventually carry on his work.

Today, we hear the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  And it’s interesting to note that at this beginning, when people hear Jesus speak and see him act, they immediately notice something is very different about this Jesus than anyone else they’ve heard or seen before.

Today’s Gospel can be divided into two halves: Jesus speaking and Jesus acting and he does both with authority.  In the first half of the Gospel, Jesus speaks.  He enters the synagogue and teaches.  And the people are astonished because he teaches not as one of the scribes, but as one with authority.

Scribes would teach by quoting well-known Rabbis. They would pass on the words of another.  But Jesus does not pass on the words of another.  He teaches with his own words  With authority in the literal sense of the word.  As he is the author of the teaching.  We hear Jesus do this also in his Sermon on the Mount when he first quotes the Law of Moses and then rewrites it himself.  “You have heard… you shall not kill… but I say to you, [you shall not even be] angry with [your] brother.” (Mt 5:21-22)

In the second half of the Gospel, Jesus acts.  A man with an unclean spirit enters the synagogue.  Jesus casts the demon out of the man.  And the people react to this action the same way they reacted to Jesus’ teaching: with amazement.  Because, they say, Jesus casts out the demon with authority.

Jesus does not call upon the power of another God to cast out this demon.  He uses his own power.  He is able to act with authority in the literal sense of the word.  Because, again, he is the author of everything that is going on.  Just as Jesus was the author of his own teaching, so too he is the author of the life of this demon he casts out.  For God is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible.  Everything on earth and in heaven, including the angels and even the fallen angels demons.  So, since he is the author of this demon’s life, when Jesus says “Git!” the demon gits!

This is good authority. Very good authority.  Because it is authentic authority. Authority used according to it’s author.

Authority is not a word or concept that is always met with joy.  Sometimes you’ll hear it said of someone, “They have a real problem with authority.”  Monsignor says that of me on occasion!  Perhaps that’s because authority is often abused.

Take for example, the Department of Health and Human Services order that all employers and health care insurers, including Catholic employers and insurers, must soon offer contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, in violation of our religious beliefs and religious freedom.  I’ve got a real problem with that abuse of authority.

Authority, used rightly, is one of the greatest gifts at our disposal.  Because all authority, exercised properly, derives from the authority of God.  Any law enacted in this country, or any other for that matter, is only just if it is derived from the Eternal Law of God.

Our own Declaration of Independence, the very first words uttered by our infant nation, speak of the Eternal Law of God.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”  Our Founding Fathers recognized that God Himself has gifted “certain unalienable Rights” to his creatures; that God Himself is the author of these Rights and therefore, is the ultimate authority.

As Catholics, we recognize this authority not in a teaching, or a philosophy, or even a Constitution.  Rather, this authority is a person: Jesus Christ.  When Jesus and his disciples were in Caesarea Phillipi, he asked them, “Who do the people say that I am?” (Mt 16:13)  Notice he didn’t say “What are the people saying about my teachings?” Or, what are the people saying about my miracles?” He said, “Who do the people say that I am?”  He is the author of all that exists. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the true authority.

And he continues to exercise his authority today, guiding each of us in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.  Doing so through the Church which he established.  After Jesus asked the disciples who the people said he was, he then asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Peter recognized Jesus as the true authority and thus worthy to possess this same authority.  Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church… I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Before leaving this earth and ascending to his Father in Heaven, Jesus asked the disciples to exercise not their own authority, but his: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [Teach all nations] to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:18-19)  Then “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and who sins you retain are retained.”

The first and final authority over our lives is the one who speaks and acts with authority.  The one who talks the talk and walks the walk: Jesus Christ.  He will never lead us astray or demand more of us than we can handle.  For he is a good and loving author.

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