4th Sunday B: The Authority of Jesus

In the Gospel, Mark gives us an account of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. What was important for Mark here was not so much what Jesus actually taught, but that He taught with authority. There are, of course, different kinds of authority. Teaching with authority could simply mean speaking well or speaking with self-confidence, like the good speaker who wins the debating competition. There was something more to authority of Jesus than debating skills.

Another kind authority comes from representing people. The authority of the members of Congress comes from those they represent. Again this is not the nature of the authority of Jesus; as His authority does not come from the people. The people often get things wrong and Jesus cannot be seen as a representative of that.

It is the unclean spirit in today’s gospel who points to where the authority of Jesus does come from. The unclean Spirit says to Jesus, ‘Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.‘ The possessed man was spiritual ill and not whole as intended by God; his human condition was warped by evil. Jesus was able to recognize that.

We can see right away when someone is physically injured or ill.  We can notice fairly quickly when someone is psychologically struggling.  Unfortunately, we sometimes fail to recognize moral or spiritual illnesses.  We might even go so far as to admire some people we shouldn’t as we may admire their achievements, gained through immoral means.  Even looking ourselves, we may fail to see that we too may have fallen into similar moral or spiritual maladies.

Jesus sees the woundedness of humanity, both physical and spiritual. This man with an unclean spirit was not as God intended, Jesus saw the spiritual wound that needed healing. We also see Jesus tending to the physical woundedness of others. However, He would often remind His followers that His main work was concerned with the spiritual healing of moral maladies.  Physical infirmities would eventually end for each person on the day they passed from this world into eternity.  However, serious spiritual maladies could cause the loss of eternal salvation.

The unclean spirit recognized the authority and power of Jesus as a power that could only come from God.  The unclean spirit recognized that it was subject to that authority. There is no room here for a dualism between good and evil. God and goodness are not in some cosmic battle with evil spirits where we eagerly await an unknowable outcome. Evil spirits are subject to divine authority. In the Gospel, the evil spirit ‘went out’ of the man at the command of Jesus. 

When we recognize the truth of human nature and the potential capabilities of every person for goodness and holiness, then we can better understand and appreciate Jesus and His authority.  The people in the Gospel saw a glimpse of divine power in Jesus as He removes evil from spiritually sick man. Ultimately, the authority of Jesus is meant to remove sin and evil in its many forms and to reaffirm the goodness of humanity and creation.

Fr. Tom