January 23, 2024 at 9:07 a.m.

Jesus teaches with authority, by words and actions

When we pray and reflect, this should then lead to resolutions about how we are to live our lives.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By Father Anthony Barratt | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

On this last Sunday in January (where did the month go?), we continue to work our way through the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel. Now, we see Jesus beginning his ministry in earnest, especially in his teaching and in his healing. It is important that we read our Gospel this Sunday through this double lens of teaching/word and of healing/action.

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. — Mark 1:22

Therefore, perhaps we can think of the Gospel as a sandwich! There is a danger that we might focus just on our Lord’s healing of the man with an unclean spirit. The healing is wonderful and important — and using our analogy — is the filling in the sandwich. However, the Gospel begins and ends with the people being amazed at Jesus’ teaching, and they are amazed because Jesus teaches having authority. That teaching having authority is like the bread that makes the sandwich.

Let us then explore the meaning of “teaching having authority.” The word used in the original language is “exousia.” It does carry a meaning that would be familiar to us in its daily or ordinary use. However, the word does not really mean authority, as in the sense of a law, or a public official, (that is as something delegated), nor is it authority as an imposition (do as I say, because I said it.) Instead, it almost means a type of natural authority or a personal authority. In fact, the proper root of our word authority comes from the same place as our word for “author,” or originator. We have all experienced people who have that natural authority: we sense it and we follow it.

In their teaching, the official teachers, the scribes, whom we hear about in the Gospel always appealed first to the opinions and traditions of others (especially scholars), before they would make any pronouncement. That is also why the Gospel says that they spoke with authority. Jesus had no official position and yet taught with personal authority, appealing to the Word of God (and remember, he is the Word made flesh.) Jesus therefore teaches having authority. We might say then that Jesus speaks from within; the scribes appear to have spoken from without. 

However, there is more. Jesus teaches with that natural authority because of who he is (the Word made flesh), but also because of what he does. His teaching and words are matched and borne out by what he does. This leads us to the filling in our sandwich. Jesus’ authority is not only in words and teaching. As we read elsewhere in the Scriptures, Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), especially healing the sick and reconciling people who were lost back to God. We might say then that Jesus is his teaching and that he does his teaching! Teaching and action go together in our Lord’s ministry: they are totally integrated.

Where does all this leave us? First of all, we can refresh our sense of the authority or authorship of our Lord’s teaching. It is not just an opinion, nor just an option among many, nor is it something imposed. After all, as our Lord says, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Instead our Lord’s teaching is to be embraced and followed, for in doing so, we embrace and follow him. Stretching things further, we might say that he is the main author of our life. Secondly, though, we also need to let that teaching of our Lord lead us to action; otherwise, we will be a sandwich with no filling! When we pray and reflect, this should then lead to resolutions about how we are to live our lives. When we hear God’s word, and the teaching that is embedded in it, this should lead us to action, especially to continue our Lord’s work of healing and reconciliation. When we receive the sacraments that come to us through words and gestures, we must let the sacrament and its grace have its proper effect on our lives. 

Finally, let us also recall that the Lord asks us to teach and preach to others in his name, both by our words and by our actions. As has been said many times, preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.


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