“As soon as the Sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.” What made Jesus’ teaching so different from the religious leaders
who were trained in scripture and theology, bearing in mind that Jesus never went to a theological school and He was never a Rabbi?
The authority of Jesus was an authority that originated from His person, not from an office or acquired knowledge. He was not teaching from some knowledge that He acquired from books or even from people. He spoke from the depths of His being, all that He was and believed. He taught from His own experience and conviction. All that He shared with others were what He believed in, stood for, lived and died for. When we speak from the depth of our shared humanity, without any pretence whatsoever, without trying to put up a show or create an impression, what we say will always find connection with our audience. In truth, all of us have the same struggles in life as other human beings. Regardless of our status, work, role and position in life, we go through the same struggles and emotions, albeit in different circumstances but the reality is the same. Hence, Jesus was able to reach out to everyone because of His authenticity in sharing what was deepest in His heart and not some abstract knowledge from His head.
Within this context, we can appreciate why the Church values such infused knowledge and personal encounter with God over theological studies, notwithstanding the importance of the latter. It was the same for St Theresa of the Child Jesus and other saints who were given the honorary title of “Doctor” of the Church when they never even attended formal school or earned any academic degrees from university. Such honorary degrees are still being conferred by our universities today to honour great men, politicians, businessman or those who have contributed much to society. By doing so, the Institutions are implicitly admitting that knowledge does not only come from study but from experience and practical performance and living.
Indeed, for Jesus, He was considered an “honorary” doctor of the Laws by His contemporaries, for they too gave Him the title of “rabbi” and “master” and “teacher.” The basis for the peoples’ recognition of Jesus’ authority came from His pointed and enlightened teaching and most of all, reflected in the way He lived His life. He was not just a teacher by preaching, but a teacher in the way He lived, talked and related with others. In Jesus, His being and doing coincided, so much so, we say that the person is the message; and the message itself is the person. Fittingly, we therefore say that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh! This declaration is not something that came a priori to an encounter with Jesus but a posteriori statement. On the basis of how Jesus lived His life in accordance with the Word of God He proclaimed, they could only say with conviction that Jesus is the Word of God. That explains why Jesus did not need to refer to any books, even the scriptures but Himself, to teach authoritatively. He did not need to cite any sources to vindicate Himself or prove that He spoke with the authority of God.
To further demonstrate that He had the authority of God, He worked miracles and acts of exorcism. He knew that His authority came from above. And because He knew the authority of God and that this authority had been given to Him, He could exercise that authority with power. Thus, with great authority, He ordered the Evil Spirit to “be quiet! Come out of him!” It was not a request but a command, an order. And we read that at this command, “the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him.” Such was the authority of Jesus that made the people “so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.”
The problem with us is that our authority is based on our studies, office and position. It is an external authority based on acquired knowledge, often without much understanding and personal conviction. Preachers and catechisms often impart the faith based on textbooks without personal conviction or identification with the theories in life. Such knowledge is based merely on memory, rationalism and a good intellect. Such knowledge can impress some people but they are often hollow and shallow, although they might sound profound and fascinating. Indeed, in professional life, whether we are doctors, lawyers or priests, we know what must be done, but our lives contradict what we teach. Doctors do not exercise enough because they are too busy; priests do not pray and take time off to be with the Lord as they have too many things to attend to; and some lawyers are always thinking how to circumvent the laws! No wonder, Jesus remarked, “So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Mt 23:3)
How do we find this decisive authority that Jesus had? There is no other way except to found our authority in God alone. This same authority that Jesus shared with God is expressed beautifully in the canticle in our responsorial psalm. “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the weak are clothed with strength. Those with plenty must labour for bread, but the hungry need work no more. The childless wife has children now but the fruitful wife bears no more. It is the Lord who gives life and death, he brings men to the grave and back; it is the Lord who gives poverty and riches. He brings men low and raises them on high.”
Indeed, all authority and power comes from God. Only God has the power to decide what is good for us and only He has the wisdom to know what can give us life. Life and power, at the end of the day, are in His hands. With God, everything is possible. The canticle expresses how God can turn the world upside down, make possible what is impossible. So much so, those who rely on Him can say, “My heart exults in the Lord. I find my strength in my God; my mouth laughs at my enemies as I rejoice in your saving help.”
So the way to be in touch with God is always through prayer. It is significant that we are told Jesus often sought refuge in quiet places to be in communion with His Father. That was the way He frequently recharged Himself, especially after a demanding day in the ministry. So too, if we want to be effective in our ministry, we need to be in constant communion with God in soaking and intimate prayer. That was how Hannah prayed in the first reading. In all sincerity, she prayed from her heart without making a show. She simply expressed how she felt and what she was going through, especially her humiliation and the feeling of injustice. And we read that the Lord heard her cries. She knew that only God could remove the curse from her. Such was her confidence in God that after her prayer, and with the reassurance of Eli, she went back home at peace with God and herself. We read that “she returned to the hall and ate and was dejected no longer.”
We too must rediscover the authority that comes from God. We must submit in obedience to Him. This is the litmus test of whether we believe that God is the basis of authority. Jesus could command the devil and his spirits because He knew the authority of His Father and He lived a life in obedience to Him.
So too Hannah, having made a promise to God that she would give Samuel back to Him for service, fulfilled the vow she made. She was a woman of integrity and faithful to her words. She said, “Lord of hosts! If you will take notice of the distress of your servant, and bear me in mind and not forget your servant and give her a man-child, I will give him to the Lord for whole of his life and no razor shall ever touch his head.” If we are to exercise authority in all that we do, we must also submit to God’s authority in obedience to Him. When we surrender ourselves to Him in all things then He will demonstrate the might of His arms.
Truly, only those who can submit to authority have a right to exercise authority. Those who cannot obey have no authority to demand obedience from others. But when we show obedience to authority, then those under us will imitate our good example. This is particularly true of parents or husbands. We cannot exact obedience from our wives or our children when we show ourselves lacking submission to the authority of God! Only when we are obedient to God, can we then exercise authority in such a way that others will respect us because they know that whatever we do is in their favour or for their good.