Authority is a mysterious thing. We may not be able to describe it well, but we certainly know it when we encounter it. We also know it when it is absent. Recall your memories of school. There were teachers who had – by appointment and academic qualification – the authority to be in the classroom. But they were inadequate to the task. The students would sense their lack of authority very quickly. Authority by appointment gets you only so far. There is much more to authority than that. Some have it, some do not.In today’s Gospel – Mark 1:21-28 – we read: “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”. What have the listeners sensed about Jesus?
Mark uses the Greek word exousia nine times when naming Jesus’ authority – on six occasions it is a direct reference to Jesus (1:22, 27; 2:10; 11:28, 29, 33) and on three occasions it refers to the authority Jesus has conferred on the apostles (3:15; 6:7; 13:34). Typically, in the literature of the time, the word, exousia, is not used of authority bestowed by appointment in a human system. It is rather a manifestation of divine presence. From the outset, Mark portrays Jesus as the very presence of God. Everything Jesus is and does communicates the presence of God. Thus, the authority the listeners sense, is the authority of God.
Recall the very first sentence of Mark’s Gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Mark recognizes John the Baptist as the one whose role it is to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3). John tells the people: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). Finally, Mark tells us that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9-11).
Many years ago, I had an experience of listening to a homily that left me with a serious question. The preacher was a person with a fine intellect. He was also an eminent theologian. I could not object to anything he said in the homily. It was well-prepared, well-constructed and well-presented. Yet, I had a disturbing sense that there was something absent. I found myself asking: Is it possible to give a “good” homily that lacks the authority of Jesus Christ? I believe it is. Ultimately, the authority for – and in – all Christian preaching, teaching and evangelizing, is Jesus himself. Not us. Not our intellects or learning or cleverness. It is Jesus. If he is absent, then the cleverer we are the worse it is. If he is present, the rest finds its proper place.
Do you know anyone who has this authority? Does your presence communicate the presence of God?