Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Authority and its limitations

Today's New Testament reading shows us more about the authority of Jesus: it shows a greater extent of his authority than we've seen before, and it also shows a limitation on his authority. Limitations?? Read on.

Earlier readings showed Jesus teaching with authority, exercising his authority over diseases and evil spirits, claiming authority over his agenda, over the definition of family, over proper interpretation of the Sabbath and other laws. In today's reading, he takes a boat trip with his disciples.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we perish?"

He got up, rebuked the wind and the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
Mark 4.37-39
He's got authority over the weather!

They go to the land of the Gerasenes, and there was a man subject to demons. Jesus commanded them (the demons said, “we are many” — Mark 5.9) to leave, and they had no choice but to obey. So Jesus has authority and can command "many" demons (a legion -- what is that, 5,000 or so? You know the rest of the story -- The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them" (Mark 5.12) and they drowned about 2,000 pigs. And the man is set free from the evil spirits.

So what's this about limitations? Well, Jesus's authority extends over the whole earth, but look what happens when the townspeople learn about this man's liberation:
When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man -- and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
Mark 5.15-17
OK, so there was nothing wrong with the authority Jesus had; the limitation was self-imposed. What I take away from this is that the good news is not always welcome. A few months ago, our pastor pointed out that although even Jesus didn't have a hearing with these folks, the liberated man did:
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Mark 5.18-20
A good point! In your office or neighborhood (or in mine), you and I may have already gained a hearing, whereas a pastor, a preacher, a "professional" evangelist might not be welcomed. So it might be that ordinary people like you and me may have key roles in expanding the Kingdom of God.

Which is exciting news, and, on balance, good news, though it feels intimidating and overwhelming at times, and I often feel that I fall short.

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