Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Deuteronomy 18:15-20
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28


January 28-29, 2012, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

The people were astonished at Jesus' teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

As someone who came of age in the 60's, I am sure I understand authority very differently from the people listening to Jesus that Saturday 2000 years ago. But at some level, the rebellion against authority in the 60's is not too different from the reaction of the people in that synagogue. Remember, Jesus has just proclaimed the Scriptures and then taught them in a way that was obviously different from the scribes. Then he actually exercises power over an unclean spirit. I was trying to imagine how that would play out today, here in our assembly. Imagine one of us suffers from schizophrenia and suddenly suffers a schizophrenic episode, becoming agitate and disruptive. Now imagine that someone walks over to them and just speaks to them and they become peaceful, whole again. How amazing would that be. But as Mark tells the story the people are not so amazed by what Jesus taught or what he did, but how he did it. He acted with new authority. And as Jesus is asked over and over again in the Gospels, where do you get this authority?

The Greek word that we hear translated as authority is exousia. This is a very interesting word in this context. At its root, this word means capability, ability. So we are talking about authority which goes deeper than credentials or position. It is authority that is rooted in the person's capability. Let me give you an example. If we hear a weather person on TV tell us that tomorrow is going to be a sunny day we take that on his or her authority as one who has studied meteorology and has learned how to interpret all the various weather data. But that weather person has no personal capability of making tomorrow a sunny day. This is not exousia. One of my favorite Bill Cosby bits is the one where he tells his kids, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!" That is exousia.

A second root meaning, which is very instructive, is authority which is delegated, which has its source somewhere else. In Jesus, this authority is God's authority which the Father has conferred on Jesus by filling him with the Spirit. So here in this short passage we have Mark revealing a deep mystery of our faith. Jesus taught with the authority of God, conferred on him by the Father with all the capability that this implies. I would suggest that this is a very important mystery to reflect on because this authority did not leave the world when Jesus went back to the Father. We believe that Jesus passed this authority on to the Church, filling it with his Spirit so that the Church can teach with an authority that comes from God, and is therefore capable.

I know I have told many of you this before but my favorite bumper sticker is one that says, “Question Authority” and then under that, “Ask me anything!”.

Of course that goes right to the heart of my 60's upbringing. I would suggest that the message of that bumper sticker is true on several levels. In the first place, we need to question who or what it is that we recognize as authority in our lives. Is it really the authority of God, or is it an authority that leads us away from God?

Who do we recognize as having exousia, authority that is capable and that carries God's authority? As Catholics we believe that the Magisterium of the Church has been gifted with the authority to teach on faith and morals. The source of this authority is God, but Jesus has sent the Church just as he was sent by the Father. But does that mean we are just to accept everything blindly? Of course not. What it does mean is that when we don't agree with the Church's teaching, we cannot just dismiss it. We must question it and question it until we start to understand what the Church is teaching. And we have to enter that process understanding that Jesus has promised that the Church will not teach falsely on faith and morals. I have done that questioning many times over the years and every time, I either did not understand what the Church actually taught, or I had a very faulty understanding of what I thought I believed. In the long run, that process will bring us into a deeper understanding of the truth the Church teaches.

But this exousia is not limited to the Magisterium. All the baptized have "put on Christ" in baptism and so have been given the responsibility to speak God's truth with this authority. That is what it means to be anointed a prophet. The Church teaches very clearly, for example, that parents are the primary teachers of their children in the ways of faith. This requires authority that is both capable and delegated from God. Everyone who preaches, or teaches in religious education or in schools is responsible for teaching with exousia. I would hope that we would all take that responsibility very seriously and make sure we are capable.

We live in a culture that wants us to think that whatever we think is reality is reality. Outside of the sciences there doesn't seem to be any passion for searching for the truth regardless of what our preconceptions might be. We need to recapture that passion for truth, in education, in politics, and especially in religion. God has given us our minds to be able to recognize truth and true authority when we encounter it. But it takes effort, and it takes formation, training, education. And the first step in that process is to seek out true authority. That's why those people were in that synagogue 2000 years ago, and I assume that is why you come here week after week. Speaking for myself, that is why I am here; when I test other sources of authority around, they just don't measure up to the authority of Christ, mediated by scripture and the teachings of the Church over these last 2,000 years. Once we have discerned true authority then we need to question that authority again and again so we might plumb the depths of this mystery of God's presence in our lives. That is the only way that we can fulfill our responsibility to teach with true authority, to be the Body of Christ authentically.

As we sang in the responsorial psalm: if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

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