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Pastor's Letter 20210131 - 31 January 2021 - He Speaks with Authority

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January 31st, 2021

Fourth Sunday-Ordinary Time

Today’s Theme:   “He Speaks with Authority”  


Jesus Teaches in the Temple

A Message from Father †Michael

Reflection on today’s Scripture Readings

In today’s First Reading, Moses is presented to us as the ideal prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-20.)   A prophet never speaks on his own authority, but rather, on behalf of God.  The Jews believed that God would raise a prophet like Moses in the Last Days.

Next, †Paul urges everyone, but especially those who are celibate, to give their undivided attention to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35.)  

Today’s Gospel reinforces that early Christians regarded Jesus as the long- awaited prophet (Mark 1:21-28.)   His teaching was given with authority and confirmed by miracles, both signs that God was with Him.   He made a deep impression on the people because, unlike the Scribes [the official teachers of the temple,] He taught with this authority.

Teaching with Authority

One of the great literary figures of 19th Century America, Ralph Waldo Emerson was hugely influential lecturer, essayist and poet, as well as a fierce foe of slavery and political corruption. One of our country’s most vital voices, he wrote something of great relevance to our Gospel message:

“Only so much do I know as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life.  I learn immediately from any speaker how much he has lived.  One person speaks from within, or from experience, as a possessor of the fact; [whereas,] another speaks from without, as a spectator, or [merely] acquainted with the facts on the evidence of [some] third person.  It is no use to preach to me from without.  I can do that myself.”

~~RWE: Essays and Lectures—"The American Scholar”   31August 1837~~

Jesus’ teaching made a deep impression on the people because, unlike the Scribes [the official teachers,] He taught them from within Himself, making such an impact upon His listeners to a degree that transcended all others.  But this is the way it should always be.  People throughout the ages have yearned for the appearance of such a teacher.  

In the spiritual life, the “secondhand” is of little worth.  Therefore, the person who has experience with what they talk about speaks with authority.  When Jesus spoke, people immediately recognized the freshness and transparency in His teaching.  Although He did not possess similar educational credentials as did the rabbis of His day, in a way, this was an advantage.  Holding no official position, as such, He was not forced to toe the “party line.”  He had the freedom to speak the truth.  There are more ways of becoming wise than simply learning from books.  Van Gogh once said: “In a way, I’m glad I have not learned painting.”  His was an education gleaned from the great school of life.

The last thing a Scribe of Jesus’ day would do is express an independent judgment.   Rather, they routinely quoted the source of their authority, buttressing their statements with those of great legal masters of the past.   By contrast, Jesus spoke with His own voice; His own authority.  He had no need to justify His words by quoting the ancient Scriptures or some other master. (When He did refer to Scripture, it was to reinforce a point with sources familiar to His audiences—not to bolster His authority.)

It’s important to distinguish between “authority and influence” on the one hand, and “power and control” on the other.  Many people who possess authority by virtue of their position many times can be quite powerless—while those most influential among us do not seek to control audiences they inspire.  Most learned adults know from experience that a person can have all the authority in the world, and still fail as a teacher.  

Certain people possess an almost spiritual superiority that gives them enormous moral authority—not by virtue of any office, but by their very character.  Our Blessed Lord had the greatest and highest authority of all, rooted in the authority of God, Himself.   Comparatively speaking, the holder of an office is a mere functionary, a mere “mouthpiece for the company line.”  

Jesus’ authority was unequalled by any human being before or since.  As Christians, we are armed with the words and examples of Jesus.  Therefore, we can and should strive to testify from a position of authority, derived from Jesus’ own transparent integrity!

Qualities of Authority

In our modern world we are immersed in a glut of words from public figures.  Adding to that, those words are presented to the public, having been massaged and “spun,” by an omnipresent social media; and the task of discriminating between fact and fiction has presented a daunting task.  There is a depressing predictability and a terrible skepticism about what some people have to say—resulting in confusion.  Often, we don’t know what to believe, or whose credentials to trust.  We are faced with obeying policies even though we may not recognize the authority of those making them. Today, many public figures lack credibility, even to the point that they don’t believe the very things they are saying.  

The character of a speaker is paramount.  If it is flawed, then credibility is seriously undermined.  And if the speaker doesn’t live according to their own words, this is perhaps the most damaging.  A large part of the ministry of Jesus was given over to teaching.   And His teaching differed markedly from that which was being presented by the officials of the day.  By way of reinforcing the transparency of Jesus’ teaching, consider these familiar examples: “No one can serve two masters…; A city on a hill cannot be hidden…;  A camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle…; You can’t pluck figs from thistles….”  

Meanwhile, Scribes failed to nourish the people, in stark contrast to the way Jesus satisfied their hearts and spirits.  Some teachers simply present “facts,” whereas others provide vision, inspiration and meaning.  Jesus’ authority came from His character—so charismatic that He compelled people to listen—and could sway entire audiences with ease.  Additionally, He backed up his words with deeds.  Mark tells us that “His teaching made a deep impression on the people.”  He doesn’t always tell everything Jesus said, but that seems to suggest that Jesus, Himself was the sermon.  People who speak that have done something, or are doing something, cause people to listen; their words carry enormous weight—real authority. The weakness in “verbosity” arises when words are not preceded, accompanied or followed by deeds.

In the final analysis, Jesus nourishes us, even after nearly 2,000 years.  But it’s not enough to merely listen to His words.  We have to live by them….

May God Richly Bless You!

“Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight Are the very lines along

which our spirits live.”

~ C.S. Lewis ~   

 To view a live stream of today's Holy Mass, click here:  https://youtu.be/uufOMu0C7yU

   Come, Christians, Join to Sing.docx

Come, Christians, Join to Sing.mp3                 

Edited by Father Michael
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