What does this mean?
A cursory look at the definition of “authority” offers little help.
“The power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, or judge.”
No one would accuse Jesus of “exacting obedience”. Rather, he gave us reason to obey, warning us sometimes of the consequences of not obeying, but never does he force us to do his bidding.
Further, the word “power” seems inappropriate here.
Mark’s audience, as best we are able to discern, was under great pressure. That pressure came from Rome, who was at the time engaged in exacting its “authority” over the Jewish lands, especially in Jerusalem, the seat of the uprising.
Mark’s community, probably from somewhere outside Jerusalem, saw the brutality and ruthlessness of the Roman war machine.
So we must look elsewhere for what Mark meant by using the term “authority” as regards Jesus and his teaching.
I think that comes from his juxtaposition with the phrase “not as the scribes.”
We know that the scribes at the time were the “literalists” of their day. They interpreted the Scriptures and defined what was acceptable and what was not to the greater population. There were various codes to be adhered to, various practices that must be accomplished to be and remain in good standing as a Jew.
So they had a certain authority it would seem, since they declared the clean from the unclean, the pious from the not, yet, apparently they did not impress the population as speaking for God. Rather, they spoke as the established “church”. Few if any, so it seemed, thought of their teaching as anything but rote repetition of rules and regulations.
No, Jesus spoke as a prophet, one sent by God to EXPLAIN. A prophet is not a seer of the future, but one who assembles the “threads of the day” and explains what they mean for the average person. Prophets are sent when people “don’t see the obvious” and need to be told what is coming (if they don’t change their ways).
Mark goes further.
As I said, Mark’s community is under great threat. Mark, doesn’t stop with just explaining that Jesus has this “authority” and should therefore be listened to as a prophet. He fairly hits his community up the side of their heads!
Jesus cures a man cursed with a demon, and the demon shrieks, “I know who you are. The Holy One of God!”
No question now. Jesus is not just a prophet, he is God’s Holy One! “Listen to him,” Mark proclaims.
One can but imagine the uproar this caused in the synagogue that day. First this rather nobody from a small outlying village arrives and without schooling or training, speaks in the synagogue, explaining the scriptures in a way apparently new and quite different from the usual recitation of admonitions and blandishments. And then, he disrupts the sacred place with a healing, calling forth demons who shriek and create a ruckus.
“What is this?”
We can see in our mind’s eye, the crowds slowly walking away in small groups, whispering among themselves. We can imagine that the synagogue authorities watched all this and gathered too, to discuss this event, and what it might mean.
We all are required to obey certain authoritative acts. We must pay taxes, obey traffic laws, obey our parents, our bosses. That is normal, and for the most part good, for society depends on a degree of compliance voluntarily given.
However, we must always remember that there is a “higher authority”, one that always supersedes earthly rules. It is the authority written in our hearts by a loving God who has impressed upon us an ingrained “knowledge” of moral right. Jesus speaks as this “authority”. We read his words and ponder his teachings, recognizing that our hearts respond to the “authority” of his teaching.
While we often wish to rebel and take a “have you come to destroy us?” attitude, we know the truth of what He speaks.
Let us always shed evil and stand in the light of God’s truth.
- 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (redemptoristpreacher.com)
- Prophets and Demons: On Jesus and Exorcisms (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- Today’s Homily – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (2012) (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- It Obeyed. (dougthemystery.wordpress.com)
- 1/29/2012 Jesus Amazes and Astounds (richbrownforewords.wordpress.com)