In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus is described as speaking with authority that amazes those who hear him. It is an authority that was so different from what the synagogue was used to hearing from their usual religious leaders: the scribes who interpreted the law of God for the people of God, and the teachers who taught the Israelites how they should live and what they should believe. Both scribes and teachers spoke with authority too. Both were inspiring, but somehow the reality of the word they taught was not part of them in the way it was with Jesus.
In the gospel passage for this Sunday, Mark tells us that Jesus taught them with authority, an authority to share wisdom, a life enhancing authority that brought wholeness to the man possessed by an unclean spirit, an authority that forgive sins, an authority that comes with a tremendous responsibility. The Jews of Capernaum were astonished at His teachings and they were amazed at His power over the evil spirits that obeyed His command to depart from those that they had afflicted and called Jesus “the Holy One of God.”
Jesus also shared this authority with His apostles: Mark says, “He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” (Mk 6:7)
Despite Jesus’ generous sharing of his spiritual authority with His apostles, they began to fight among themselves for political authority. They began to quarrel among themselves about who is the greatest. “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” (Mk 10:42-43) Whatever authority is to be exercised by the disciples, it should be like that of their Master, and must be rendered as service to others, rather than for personal glorification.
Similar to the apostles, there are occasions where we too are tempted to use authority, even spiritual authority, for our own benefit, to boost up our own egos and to lord it over others.
Sometimes, our spiritual gifts are used as a symbol of pride and dominance. We need to humbly accept that the more we are empty and insecure within, the more we are tempted to abuse authority, even in the name of God. It is not uncommon to see unfriendly competition among members or leaders of various ministries in any community.
We can likewise speak with authority to the extent we stay connected to Christ who is THE authority. We cannot hope to speak or act with any kind of effectiveness, conviction or success unless we speak God’s words, values and vision. We are granted authority by God to speak in His name. We are called by Jesus to go out to preach, to heal, to care for others and to show them God’s love. We have to use this power and authority in accordance with the will of God. Jesus gives to us tremendous power and authority and with it, responsibility.
And for those who might have leadership roles in the church, the temptation to misuse authority is even more, we sometimes fail to exercise this authority - the power to speak for God, to help and to heal our brothers and sisters. Others end up using them for their own benefit or for the benefit of their worldly masters.
If we are to exercise our responsibility authoritatively, we have to work and trust our own experience that is filled with God no matter what our state of life is. We have to truly embrace the gift of the spirit that Jesus has given to us and make it happen.
Our BLD community is undergoing a period of emergence. Jesus will give our community one voice and will make clear the servants who will be given authority to lead us in continuing God’s works of evangelization and mission. Let us all be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
And as we marvel at the authority of Jesus, let us ask for the grace that our own authority not be founded on the books we read, our degrees or education or categorized position, but on our continued experience of God. As His children we have a spiritual authority rooted in God, not like a large imposing tree that suppresses all other shrubs under its shadow, not allowing any form of life around it. It should be an elegant, slender tree that welcomes different forms of life to flourish around it, one that is gentle, life giving and full of compassion.
Jesus’ authority is that elegant slender tree.