Gospel Reflections by Father Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel: Mk 1:21-28

Authority Rather Than Power


One 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.

For 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 himself.

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.

Albert 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 the Law."
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.

When 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.

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Taken from Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

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