ACTING WITH GOD’S AUTHORITY
On this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary time we are encouraged to accept God’s authority and to act with that authority especially in our fight against sin and evil.
In the gospel narrative two things are revealed about Jesus and the unclean spirit which represent evil. The first is that evil knows who Jesus is. Second, evil is afraid of the Lord Jesus. Knowing the Lord is not enough. Even evil knows the Lord. In fact, evil knows the Lord better than most of us. Evil’s knowledge of the Lord is based on experience. How many of us had experienced the Lord? Only when we have truly experience the Lord could we really know Him. Our knowledge of God should be for the purpose of loving and serving Him, and not like evil which is simply to see the Lord as an adversary.
Our knowledge leads to faith and is for the purpose of faith. Knowledge should not be only “knowing about” but also knowing by experiencing. Have you known the Lord experientially? We can meet and experience the Lord in the Eucharist, in other people, in nature, in events, and in all Creation. We can seize every moment as an encounter with the Lord. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) remarked that "faith is mighty, but without love it profits nothing. The devils confessed Christ, but lacking charity it availed nothing. They said, 'What have we to do with you' (Mark 1:24)? They confessed a sort of faith, but without love. Hence they were devils."
Faith is powerful, but without love it profits nothing (1 Corinthians 13). Scripture tells us that true faith works through love (Galatians 5:6) and abounds in hope (Romans 15:13). Our faith is made perfect in love because love orients us to the supreme good which is God himself as well as the good of our neighbor who is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26,27).
Also, the unclean spirit feared the Lord. It is recognition of Jesus’ authority. It is a resignation to Jesus’ divinity. Evil knows that it cannot do anything against Jesus and its destruction will be inevitable. We also need to have a healthy fear of the Lord. We should fear that we will be separated from the love of the Lord. In the Act of Contrition, we say, “…I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell...” We see the consequences of our sin as not only experiencing the pains of hell, but also, the loss of heaven. We fear being separated from God. Our separation from Him leads us to nothingness. Our life is with the Lord, as St Augustine teaches, “our souls are restless until they rest in God”.
Long time ago, Moses prophesied about a great and final prophet (eschatological prophet) who would come and speak on God’s behalf (mediator of God’s word). He will speak with Divine authority and “I will put my words into his mouth,” says the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:18). This prophecy is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. He confirmed this fact in speech, “I have not spoken on my own authority. My Father commanded me what I should say” (John 8:28)
The authority to teach, as known by the Jews were meant for the Scribes and the Pharisees who were teachers of the law. They had always questioned the authority of Jesus as “what authority have you for acting like this”- Matt. 21:23. And when Jesus healed the paralytic in Mk 2, they also murmured among themselves saying “How can this man talk like this” Mk 2:6-7, meaning, where He got such authority. In Matt 28:18 Jesus declares: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. The fact is that Jesus does not just possess the authority, He is the authority itself.
Jesus did not speak like the scribes. The scribes spoke extensively about the letter of the law and rituals, but Jesus’ words were more profound because they dwelt on the spirit of the law and the Gospel of love and salvation. He was not just an ordinary public speaker or master of rhetoric, but His words had depth and so he still invites his followers to a depth of the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 1:33). His words were amazing and full of power and with these words he inspired radical change of hearts, with these words he brought healing and with these powerful words he cast out and expelled demons. His words just made a deep impression on his listeners, because they are spirit and life (John 6:63). Jesus is the model teacher as he speaks to his followers saying “Learn from me” (Matthew 11:29). He was different from the scribes because he was authentic and he lived what he preached. He talked the talk and walked the walk. The life story of Jesus shows he was a teacher with a difference.
Jesus passed the authority to teach to His apostles. The Apostles passed on the responsibility of teaching to their successors – The Holy Father, the Pope together with the college of Bishops. These leaders of the Church are officially called the Magisterium (teaching authority). They draw their source of teaching from Sacred Scriptures and historical practice/experience (tradition) of the Church community. The Church is not where anything goes or where anyone wakes up and begins to teach anything, but the Church has standards, such as the Universal Creed (Credo) and standards on matters concerning faith and morals.
Jesus taught with authority, not only because he is God, but also because his words are always accompanied by his deeds, and his deeds are invariably in consonance with his words. When he taught about love, for instance, he proved it by his own example: “No greater love than for a man to give his life for his friends.” And, indeed, he showed this when he willingly offered his life on the cross for us, even “while we were still enemies” because of our sins (cf. Rom 5:8). That is why he could demand from us: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). How far we are from the example of Jesus! Our words are rendered meaningless because too often they are not accompanied by deeds. Sometimes we even act contrary to what we say and teach. Christian witnessing is what we sorely lack. Pope Paul VI wrote emphatically on this in 1975: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses…It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus – the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of holiness”. (Evangelium Nuntiandi, n. 41).
Beloved, there are many people who find themselves under some kind of chains like that of the demoniac who Jesus set free in the gospel of today. Such chains could be sickness; chains of poverty; chains of unproductivity; chains of sin; chains of unemployment; chains of barrenness; chains of failure; and chains of death. Let us take authority on the Word of God, who is Jesus and when He speaks, He commands every evil in us to “Be quiet! Come out of him”! At the word of God every chain falls asunder. Friends, He (Jesus) should be the first in our lives; I mean the raison d’etre of our being. How could anything else, how could anyone else who have no knowledge of how we came to be claim to be the one to determine how we would end? Let us make the Lord the First in our lives as the message of the second reading tells us. The God who created us definitely has a purpose which must be accomplished. The prophet Jeremiah assures us: “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” Jer1:4.This same God holds the keys to our lives – (Rev. 3:7), and when He opens, no one can close, and when he closes, no one else can open. And whom the Lord sets free, is free indeed! His authority is the Absolute. Do you believe that God's word has power to set you free and to transform your life?
PRAYER – Lord God help us to accept your authority and to believe in your word. May your word destroy every evil in us that we may wholly live for You alone. Amen!!!