Jesus was asked several times: “By whose authority do you say these things?” – or in today’s Gospel – “What is this? A new teaching with authority.”
The old, authoritative, teaching from scribal wisdom, was passed on from older scribes and founded on avoidance, no-no’s: people, like lepers and tax-collectors and sinners; things: like, like pork, unwashed whatevers – persons, places, and things to be avoided.
Our idea of authority is two-fold:
1. There is, first, authority from outside. Someone else confers this authority - like being appointed a cabinet member, a CEO, a bishop. It is usually accompanied by an oath of office.
2. There is also the authority that comes from inside, from within a person. It is the authority that comes from experience, education, it is being “an authority,” for example, on Benjamin Franklin, on diamonds, on astrophysics.
Actually, inner authority is the root of the word ”authority” itself. The “auth” in authority comes from two Greek words: autos and epha: “He himself says so.”
It is the ideal to have both kinds of authority. The authority, which Jesus emphasizes in today’s Gospel, is inner authority. Jesus possessed no conferred, Jewish, earthly, authority. It takes an act of faith to accept that his authority came from his father. Repeated incidents like this convinced many that that was true.
The scribes would quote famous rabbis when asked a question. Jesus did not; he spoke boldly for himself. He held people spellbound, hanging on his every word because he possessed a profound inner authority. Jesus held complete authority both the authority conferred by his father and a life of openness to learning truth. It freed him to challenge the status quo. It ultimately got him killed.
A lot of folks with external authority do not see the difference between external authority and internal authority, and, in their frustration at not being recognized as “the authority,” get aggressive, even violent. It happened to Jesus . . .
Outside of military service, external authority is never sufficient by itself. The scribes rested on the laurels of their external authority. They lost respect among those who listened to and compared the scribes’ and Jesus’ teaching.
This raises the question of church authority. We believe 100% of the important church teachings in the apostles’ and Nicene creeds concerning doctrine. Main line Protestants agree 100% with us.
What about the moral decisions about which the church invokes its authority over us? Does the church always speak god’s will? Historically, the answer is no. Slavery and usury are two easy examples.
Most times, directives make good sense. Sometimes, however, they do not. “Discernment” is the traditional word for learning God’s will for oneself. We are to listen carefully to church directives; that is the literal meaning of “obedience.” ob + audire means to “listen carefully.” When we do not agree, we pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, examine the issue, our motives and the circumstances of the situation, and prudently make our decision. A habitual, good relationship with God is necessary.
Jesus trusted his God-given, Spirit-inspired gifts and powers; we are called to do the same. Like JESUS, we need to have the courage of our convictions.
When we are reflectively in tune with God, we, like Jesus, will do courageous and marvelous deeds in breaking scribal, fearsome boundaries - with authority, as did Jesus.