Rather Than Power
evening a few years ago while visiting my home town, I came upon a
scene where policemen were trying to control a drunkard who was shouting
in vile language and, in general, disturbing the peace. While I was
watching, "the Master" came along. The Master, now retired,
had been our, mine and the drunkard's very respected teacher in grade
three. At a time when other teachers still used a cane he preferred
to try to arouse the interest of his students in their studies, and
when that happened there was seldom a discipline problem. The police
were just about to use violence on the shouting drunkard when the
Master asked them to let him talk to the man. He walked up close and
said, "Jim, sober up boy and go home quietly and do not be making
a fool out of yourself." In seconds the man transformed and became
as if he had never taken a drink. "Good evening, Master,"
he said. Then he said to the policemen in a meek voice, "I'm
sorry if I caused you any trouble" and he walked home quietly.
me this incident illustrated the difference between power and authority.
The Policemen had power which implies the possession of the ability
to yield force, but the Master had authority - a power given to him
to influence and direct others that came from what he stood for in
today's Gospel we also see authority confronting power. In the very
first miracle recorded by Mark, Jesus is interrupted while teaching
in the synagogue by the shouts of a man possessed, a man who is owned
by an evil power. Jesus speaks and commands the power that dominates
the man's life to leave him alone. At once the man becomes freed by
the presence of the authority of Jesus, just as Jim was set free by
the authority of the Master.
Nolan, in "Jesus before Christianity" says that unlike the
scribes, Jesus never appeals to the authority of the rabbinical tradition,
nor even to the authority of scripture itself. He does not expound
the truth by interpreting or commenting upon the sacred text. His
perception and interpretation of the truth is direct and unmediated.
He does not lay claim to the authority of a prophet, or to a prophetic
calling or vision to authenticate his words. He refuses to produce
any kind of sign from heaven to prove that he can speak from God.
He expected people to see the truth of what he was doing and saying
without relying on any authority at all. The only authority that Jesus
might be said to have appealed to was the authority of truth itself.
He did not make authority his truth but made truth his authority.
Jesus did not expect others to obey him: he expected them to obey
the truth. And as truth comes from God he was expecting them to obey
God. This is why the people "were astonished at the way he taught
for he taught as one having authority, and not like the teachers of
To appeal to the authority of another is probably the second weakest
way in which to establish truth; the weakest is to appeal to ones
own: "it is right because I say so." This is a return to
power, to "might is right" thinking. Unfortunately it is
often used by parents and others who lack authority and so appeal
to power to support their situation.
I was first introduced to the writings of John Main I was struck by
the authority that was in the teaching itself. He reflected on the
disconnectedness and alienation that so many people experience in
their lives today and on the teaching of Jesus that we should leave
self behind to follow him. He taught the extremely simple discipline
of saying a prayer word twice daily for a period of 20 to 30 minutes.
When I began to live this simple but extremely difficult teaching
I discovered in my own experience that this was a way of leaving self
behind, and that very soon it was bringing a connectedness into the
rest of my life. When the authority of the teaching was found in experience
there was no need for a power to impose it.
into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian
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