When you hear the word authority, what comes to mind?
For me what comes to mind is someone wielding power, an enforcer of sorts, someone who uses power to make you conform. It’s an external kind of power such as what power police have in enforcing laws and rules.
Jesus wasn’t like that.
When you think about world leaders that we see in the news every day, they wield power and authority. Their authority stands over the military might of their nations. In too many cases, it’s by that kind of authority that little people can be crushed. The economic policies that they implement are derived from the kind of authority that they have and when mis-applied, the effects on the poor can be devastating. And it’s by that misguided kind of authority – more so even evil power – that despicable things are done to the innocents in far too many third-world countries.
Jesus’ authority was not like that.
The temple leaders in Jesus’ own day also had a kind of authority. Most definitely they enforced the Law, in Judaism seen by them as sets of rules to be followed and enforced. Their power, as that of each of the others I’ve mentioned, was an external kind of power. The temple authorities were oblivious to the fact that “Torah”, the Hebrew word for the Law meant The Teachings – not legalistic rules.
Jesus was not like that.
And so, for the leaders of the temple et al, Jesus was seen as a threat because he was different.
I think our usual understanding of authority when we hear that word or when we’re apprehended by it, is about an external source of power. When you look into it, its most often based on something external that justifies the person’s power.
As I’ve been saying, Jesus was not like that. His sense of authority was not like that.
When it says in the scripture words such as “And Jesus spoke with authority … and the people were amazed or the people were amazed and went away murmuring”, it is a different kind of authority.
In Greek where it says Jesus spoke with authority, a more accurate understanding would be that Jesus spoke out of his own being. The meaning in Greek is that Jesus spoke “ek ousia”… out of his own being. In the Nicene Creed that word is similar to “of one being with the Father”. “Homo-ousion”. Well, enough Greek.
Jesus’ “power” or Jesus’ authority is a different kind of authority because it comes from the depths of who he is. It was not some external thing that validated him so that he could lord power over others. It was his integrity to own what he said, to walk the talk, we might say.
What he taught and how he lived was the integration of his understanding, his belief, his compassion, his forgiving nature… his humility. What he said was who he was… and the integration of all that into the person he was formed the basis of his authority. It’s what made it so amazing. It was radically different and it’s the kind of authority that’s radically different today.
Leaders can learn so much from Jesus and how he practised his sense of authority. And so can you and I learn from Jesus’ model of authority.
It’s a new kind of authority. And it’s the kind of authority to which lesser mortals, like you and I, can aspire. It has to do with a sense of personhood, the sense of who we are from within: all the components of our being that come together to make us the individual persons that we are.
Maybe in a theological way, that is out of ones soul, the core of who we are.
Being able to connect with that depth of being is becoming able to live authentically. No veil, no barriers, no external power.
That, I think, is the kind of authority that Jesus modelled to his followers. For you and me, it’s a journey of discovery. It’s a prayerful journey of serious introspection -- looking deeply into oneself. It’s a prayerful journey to understand others. It’s a prayerful journey into ones own depths to discover what animates who we are … what makes us who we are.. what links us with others… what links us with Jesus.
It is an entirely new and radical way of seeing authority and reaching into ones own sense of authority. It’s a journey into prayer and into meditation.
The good news is that the kind of authority that Jesus models is the kind of authority that can change the world…. even one person at a time.
Lord Jesus, help us to seek the new authority that you model for us through your life and teachings. Help us to let go of external trappings that distract and limit us. Help us to feel your presence in the depths of our hearts so that, out of who we are as your disciples, we can bring wholeness and hope to the broken. Amen.
The Rev'd W Glenn Empey