January 28, 2018

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time


In December, 2017 a new archbishop was appointed for the archdiocese of Paris in France.  He is now 66 years old.  While the new archbishop had been a bishop for some years, his appointment was somewhat unusual.  As a young man, the new archbishop wanted to live his Catholic faith and serve others, but he became a medical doctor.  He eventually became expert in medical ethics, and he was well informed in regard to the teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to medical ethics and related bioethical issues.  But at age 39 he decided to enter a seminary, and at the age of 44 he was ordained a priest.  He soon had a prominent role in his archdiocese.  Now he is an authority not only in regard to Catholic teaching concerning medical ethics, but he is an authority in regard to Catholic teaching in regard to faith and morality in general.  He also has the authority to do certain things, such as conferring the sacrament of Holy Orders, that he could not do before his ordination as a priest and bishop.


One theme in the readings for this Sunday is the theme of authority.  We notice that Jesus teaches with authority, and he acts with authority.  We realize that he shares his authority with the Church.  We can ask ourselves first of all, “What teaching authority do we follow?” and secondly, “On whose authority do we act/”


In regard to the authority of Jesus, we are told that when Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath, he taught.  The Gospel of Mark says that the people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught as one having authority and not as the scribes.  This seems to mean that Jesus claimed to have special authority to interpret the will of God, and he did not make reference to any other authority, such as Jewish teachers.  On the other hands, the scribes would usually quote other Jewish teachers and rabbis and not teach on their own authority.  Jesus seems to be a prophet and to fulfill what Moses had said in our first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy.  Moses said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen.”  A true prophet could speak in the name of the Lord.  Through our Christian faith, we know that Jesus had an authority to speak in the name of the Lord that went beyond Moses and Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. 
The authority of Jesus comes from the fact that he has a divine nature as well as a human nature.  As the Son of God, Jesus as a special authority to reveal his Father’s will to us.


As Christians and disciples of Jesus, we are to be guided by the authority of Jesus.  However, this is not as simple as it may sound.  How do we know what Jesus is telling us in a certain situation?  Some Protestants claim that Scripture and indeed, Scripture alone is the only authority that we need.  But one problem here is how do we know what is Scripture and what is not?  Another problem is that there are different interpretations of Scripture.  Which interpretation do we follow?  A solution to these questions is the realization that Jesus has shared his authority with his Church.  Jesus gave the apostles and their successors the authority to teach in his name.  Jesus said, “whoever hears you, hears me.”  The teaching authority of the Catholic Church, or the magisterium, consists of the pope and the bishops in union with him.  On controversial issues the teaching authority of the Church can be a helpful guide.  But we have to ask ourselves, what teaching authority do we use as our guide?   Do we use the authority of our own interpretation of Scripture?  Do we follow some non-Catholic authority or our own reasoning, or are we guided by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church?


Our Gospel passage today tells us that Jesus not only taught with authority but he also acted with authority.  He was able to drive out a demon from a man with an unclean spirit.  Jesus was able to give a command to the evil spirit and the evil spirit came out of the man.  Again we realize that Jesus had a special authority that other people did not have.  As the Son of God, Jesus had the authority to drive out demons.  Jesus won the victory over demons by his suffering, death, and resurrection.  Jesus shares his authority with his Church.  While the formal rite of exorcism is reserved to bishops and to priests delegated by bishops, all Christians have the power to resist Satan and the forces of evil.  Spiritual warfare is part of the Christian life.  St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, Chapter 3:17 tells us to do everything in the name of the name of the Lord Jesus.  We have the authority to act guided by the power of Jesus.  We can intercede for others and share our faith with them.  One classmate of mine told me recently that he offers his sufferings for the good of souls in purgatory.


Today we give thanks for the authority of Jesus that enabled him to teach and act in a special way.  We give thanks for the salvation he won for us.  We also are to be thankful that he shares his authority with the Church and with us in different ways.  We ask for the ability to teach and act in the name of the Lord for our own benefit and for the benefit of others.