Teaching With Authority
Miss B, as us kids called her, walked into my life in the fall semester of 7th grade. She was a petite, young teacher, probably not more than a year or two out of college. Despite her inexperience she had a way of getting us to pay attention and listen. She was the kind of teacher that made an impression; she was smart, kind, caring and she spent hours after the closing bell mentoring us in the classic art of debate. She had what you might call passion for the job. I don’t know what happened to Miss B, but I won’t ever forget the difference she made in my life when I was just an adolescent. She is an example to me of the positive effect of good teaching.
In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. When people heard him teach it was unlike anything they had heard before. It wasn’t like listening to the scribes, who taught about God’s laws as if they were reciting names from a telephone book. Jesus spoke as one who was intimately familiar with his subject material. He spoke with passion.
Mark goes on to describe Jesus as one who taught with authority. He spoke the word of God as no one had spoken it before. When the Rabbis taught they supported their statements with quotes from other authorities like Moses and Abraham. The prophets spoke with delegated authority – “Thus says the Lord!”, they would begin their proclamations. But when Jesus spoke he needed no authorities to back his statements. He was authority incarnate — the Word of God made flesh.
To emphasize this Mark uses the healing miracle as a way of showing that even the unclean spirits recognize the authority of Jesus. “I know who you are.” They say to him as they head out the door to wherever banished demons go.
When Jesus begins teaching, the people are deeply impressed; they can see for themselves the difference between how Jesus teaches and how other religious leaders teach. When Jesus teaches, something actually happens. It is not a matter of words decorating the air. Jesus creates an impression because people can see the change for good that it produces in the broken, the crippled and the outcast.
The first reaction to all this goodness is of course positive. Jesus appears to be the answer to a long-awaited promise.
But this positive regard will not last. There will be those who begin to question Jesus’ authority. Those who feel their own standing being threatened by what Jesus has to offer. They will try to discredit the source of Jesus authority by degrading his background, where he comes from, who his family is. They will even suggest that the miracles that Jesus performs are possible not because of power given by God but rather power which has been given by the devil.
Despite the attacks Jesus’ authority will not diminish because they will not be able to change the fact of who Jesus is.
The word of God is challenging us today because each one of us has been given authority. When we were baptized we were anointed priest, prophet and king. You can’t ask for any more authority than that and, like Jesus, we have authority that cannot be taken away from us.
With authority comes responsibility.
As priests of God we are called to be holy, to be faithful to the word of God and to the Sacraments that have been given to us to share.
As prophets, we are called to stand up and speak courageously the way that Jesus did in the face of injustice even if it’s not always the most popular word that people want to hear.
As Kings longing for an eternal kingdom we are called in this life to testify to the dignity that is inherent in every person by virtue of their creation and to call to mind the Spirit of God present in us by virtue of our baptism.
We have also been given the task of teaching, of sharing and handing on our faith to our children, our loved ones and anyone that God puts in our path. While it is true that we are not all called to be 7th grade teachers, we can share our passion for God in whatever vocation we find ourselves.
“Teachers are those who use their lives as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” – Nikos Kazantzakis