Authority and power are two different things: power is the force by means of which you can oblige others to obey you. Authority is the right to direct and command, to be listened to or obeyed by others. Authority requests power. Power without authority is tyranny. - JACQUES MARITAIN, "The Democratic Charter", Man and the State
Gospel Text: (MK 1:21-28)
Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers,
and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are–the Holy One of God!"
Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!"
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
"What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him."
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
Twice in today’s Gospel passage we hear the word “authority”, both times applied to Jesus. In both cases, astonishment or surprise is evoked by the fact that Jesus teaches with authority. Why is there this astonishment, and what does it mean for Jesus to teach with authority?
In the culture that surrounds us, every person believes himself to be his own authority. In effect, this wide-spread belief means that no real authority exists. In our society there is a great need for clarity about the meaning and purpose of authority.
At its most literal level, the word “authority” comes from the word “author”. The author of a novel can create worlds of his own design from his imagination. Laws of physics need not apply. Strange creatures can exist, and fantastic events are commonplace. Tolkien, Baum and Rodenberry are all authors in this sense. They have the authority to create worlds and races of creatures, and to confer life on and take life from individuals. However, this is merely a fictional form of authority. In reality, there is only one Author of creation.
Jesus, as God from God and Light from Light, is this divine Author. Through His divinity He has authority. He exercises this authority throughout the three years of His public ministry for various persons, and for all mankind on Calvary. However, in the face of His exercise of divine authority, astonishment arises for varied reasons.
Most cannot believe that a mere man could exercise divine authority. Jesus, of course, was not merely a man, even though He was fully so. In our own lives, we should not be astonished by the authority or power of Jesus. We should root our daily lives in His desire to grant us His grace.