Thursday, February 15, 2007

Teaching with Authority

Some years back, I heard Juan Carlos Ortiz talk about the concept of "teaching with authority." What does it mean? he asked. Of course it means that the preacher should practice what he preaches, that he walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Of course the preacher, or teacher, should be a person of integrity, and actually believe the things taught.

But whereas those may be requirements or prerequisites, they don't capture the essence of what it means to teach with authority. As Juan Carlos put it, "It means that we expect you to do what we tell you!"

Today's New Testament reading, from Mark 1, shows this dramatically. One sabbath day in Capernaum,
Jesus went into the synagogue to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then, a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? ...."

"Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching -- and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him."
from Mark 1.21-27
This passage is really astonishing in my view. I mean, the miraculous healing is astonishing in itself, but let's look at the structure of it, in particular, what it is specifically that Jesus does:
  • Jesus went into the synagogue to teach
  • People were amazed at his teaching
  • Jesus commands an evil spirit...
  • People were amazed about his teaching
What does the passage tell us about Jesus's teaching? No words are reported, but he commands an evil spirit and heals someone.
As a side note, I've heard that the rabbis typically taught by referring to what other rabbis said. You can see a 20th century example of this in Chaim Potok's marvelous book, The Chosen. Reb Saunders gives his people a sermon where he illustrates a point as, "Does not Rabbi Meir tell us..." and "What does Rabbi Akiva say?" and things like this. I don't think Jesus is ever recorded as having done this, as invoking another rabbi to make his point. Elsewhere in the Bible (Matthew 5 for example) he says, "You have heard it said... but I say to you...." He appeals to Scripture at times but I don't think he ever appeals to a rabbi for support.
Could it be... that what Mark means by "teaching" is exactly Jesus's command to the evil spirit, that the only teaching going on here is that of healing the man? That's what the structure seems to suggest.

And if that's the case (as I think it is), what is being taught? Well, what I learn from this action is: Jesus has authority over evil spirits! And if he has authority over evil spirits, then how much more over things that I sometimes worry about?

And so I can be sure that he has power and authority to heal what ails me -- or my relationships, or any situation at the office. And that's good news.

posted 2/16

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