In today’s Gospel we hear that the people were astonished because Jesus taught with authority. This might seem odd to us, but we have to remember that Jewish rabbis taught not on their own authority, but on the authority of their teachers or other rabbis who cited yet even other rabbis. Eventually, some of them even worked their way all the way back to Moses. Jesus, on the other hand, did not cite any authority other than that of God. This was a new way of teaching for these people.
Jesus’ authority reached even further than a matter of teaching. He commanded the unclean demon who had possessed a man to depart. Remember again that these people thought of the created universe as a series of ranks – God in the highest rank, followed by the sons of God (which we call angels), followed by the spirit world (both good and evil spirits) followed by human beings and then the animals of their environment. When Jesus, a member of the fourth rank, demonstrated power over a member of the third rank, it would have been interpreted to mean that Jesus was not a mere mortal but must have ranked higher than the evil spirits.
Naturally, news of this spread throughout the land. How could it not? Jesus was someone with unheard of authority both as a teacher and as a wonder worker.
When Jesus commissioned the apostles to teach and baptize, he also handed over the authority to do so. In his Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds them that, as an apostle, he has the mind of Christ and, therefore, the authority handed on to him by Jesus. As disciples, we are also commissioned to teach and to preach the Gospel. If our lives are consistent with our message, people will also recognize our authority. That authority is lost, however, if we do not practice what we preach.
Jesus lives with us and inhabits our very bodies. As we receive his body and blood this morning, it is with the resolve to be what we claim to be, the body of Christ for our world today.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator