- Nobody likes to be told what to do. Particularly as children, our first struggles take the form of a battle to do what we want. Whether it’s staying up late, eating more candy, eating less vegetables, our parents look to impose their will on us, and we resist. Looking back, most of us recognize that our parents knew what was best, but at the time, we only knew that what they asked of us was not fun. And even now as we’ve grown, the number of those we have to listen to only seems to increase. In addition to our parents, we are ordered by our doctor, our spouse or even a good friend. Most probably, it is just as likely that, as adults, we do our best not to listen to these people; we seek to find ways to do what we want in spite of them. As free and intelligent individuals, we don’t obey blindly, we feel as though we can determine if what they ask of us is best.This attitude, while in many ways universal, is also particular to our own age. We are witnessing today a great breakdown in society’s understanding of authority. The trust we place in those with authority seems to have crumbled. There are too many politicians, in both countries who are corrupt. There has been a shift in our culture to choosing right and wrong for ourselves, going against convention, tossing out traditional ways of life handed down to us. We no longer trust once respected authority figures, maybe even for good reason. And this has become very much a part of how we think—we look at WebMD to double check our doctor, parents seem to doubt that they should correct their children, and even our trust in the Church has been shaken as we doubt those in authority, top to bottom. So, often we don’t know who to trust and, at times, can’t untangle life’s difficulties on our own.
Today’s readings offer us a chance to revisit our understanding of authority. It is revealed that Christ comes speaking with a new authority. Unlike the scribes, he speaks as one having authority, it is at his word that unclean spirits are cast out.
Christ is trustworthy as an authority primarily for two reasons: he knows the truth, and he shares it selflessly. Christ brings to us God’s message of salvation .Unlike prophets or priests, the message is unclouded by human elements. We hear the message directly and clearly. And that message is revealed, above all, on the cross, where we witness his great love for all of us. Fulfilling His Father’s will, emptying himself, he becomes one of us and dies for us, so that we may see and know the way of salvation. In his great love, he bears this message not for himself, but for all of us who can’t take that path without him. Due to his perfect knowledge and perfect love, we know that where he leads us is truly the best path for us..
We can think of the authority of a parent. While they are not omnipotent, their experience and knowledge gives them the obligation to guide their children who are still naïve. And they do this not for their own gain, but because they love their children and want what is best for them. It is a parent’s responsibility to know better and help their children overcome those desires which will not serve them well. This analogy applies, then, to any form of authority. When someone parades around as a know-it-all, but is incompetent, there will be no trust. Our trust in authority weakens when we realize it was abused to advance some personal cause, when our best interest was not in mind. Whether it be politicians, doctors, police or parents, it is an openness to finding the truth, and the loving desire to share it, which makes any authority trustworthy. It is then that we are seeking to imitate Christ.
But we also need to approach Jesus for liberation: Jesus did not use his authority and divine power to rule and control people. He came to make people free. Thus, we need to approach Jesus with trusting faith so that he may free us from the evil spirits that keep us from praying and prevent us from loving and sharing our blessings with others. He can also free us from all the “evil spirits” of fear, compulsions, selfishness, anger, pride, unforgiveness, resentment and hostility. “I have come that they may have life, life in abundance” (Jn 10:10). So Jesus should be a source of liberation for us. May he free us from all those spirits which make us deaf, dumb, blind, lame and paralyzed, physically and spiritually. Through Word and Sacrament, he brings that power to us and says to the demons in our life, “Be gone!” He says it as often as we need to hear it, over and over again, until by his power we are free from them all. Christ has power over any demon, whether that demon be an addiction, a heartache, a secret sin–whatever our need may be–Christ can set us free.
2) But there is one more thing we need to do. We need to use our God-given authority and liberation to build up lives. No doubt we can think back to people who have made a lasting impression on our lives – either for good or bad. Perhaps it was a grandparent, an uncle, or a parent, who loved us and cared for us. Perhaps it was a Sunday school teacher who encouraged us in our faith and exerted a positive impact on our lives. Perhaps we remember the kindness as well as the firm discipline that a schoolteacher gave us. On the other hand, there may be people in our past whom we remember with pain and discomfort. We need to examine our lives and ask if the authority given to us is being used to build up those around us. So today, when we hear that Jesus entered the synagogue at Capernaum and began to teach, we need to take note. Jesus was a teacher. They never called him “Reverend,” or “Father,” or “Priest.” They called him “Rabbi,” which means “teacher.” Each of us should be teacher to one another and use our authority to build up each other’s lives. For building up each other’s life is one of the sweetest prayers we can offer the Lord. That is the heart of Christendom. Pray God that we not only recognize that but put it into daily practice around us..