The readings for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021, talk about God speaking to us, to you, to me, to all people. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Chapter 18:15-20, Moses tells the people, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” The Gospel reading from Mark 1:21-28 tells us that when the people hear Jesus teach, they are astonished, “for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes…He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
I often ponder, what must it be like to teach with authority? Do we have teachers with authority today? While we each have our reason, our intellect and the talents with which God has blessed us, can we be sure that our ideas can be taught with authority? Does the teaching with authority ascribed to Jesus apply to our teachers in universities, government, and media outlets?
Certainly, these secular institutions have authority to ensure we have a civil, just and equitable society, where the rights and dignity of each person is upheld. These institutions have a duty to teach us, authoritatively, how to live in a civilized manner and to teach us how to protect and uphold the rights of the other. They have a duty to teach us how to administer and manage the complexities of government, infrastructure, education, justice systems, economics, public safety and defense.
Jesus taught with the authority of God. Jesus left a teaching authority, the Church, to guide us on our spiritual journey, navigating the simple (yet complex, because we get in our own way) infrastructure necessary to attain the Kingdom of Heaven. “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10?16) “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19) and so we have our bishops to teach and guide us along the way.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I struggle to reconcile secular teaching authority with Church teaching authority. Often, my ego will rebel against both. Government, I claim, is taking away my “individual” rights. The Church is telling me that some of my human desires are not in line with the moral teachings of Jesus. We, as Americans, are used to being highly individualistic in our thinking. We often selfishly complain that anything that infringes on our “individual” wants and desires, even if it is for the good of the whole, is an afront to our personal liberty. St Paul instructs us to “be under the control of magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise.” (Titus 3:1) We have the duty to be obedient to those who govern in all things but sin. “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior.” (1 Tim 2:3)
It isn’t easy living a Christian life in our culture today. What are we to do? “If today you hear my voice, harden not your hearts” our Psalm response proclaims. We hear the voice of God in Sacred Scripture, in the Church and the Holy Spirit’s inspirations. And what is our response? “Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.” (Ps 95:6-7) Obey the Lord, obey civil authority in all things but sin and pray for them. Render our praise and worship to God and let the peace of Christ reign in our hearts. This is good and pleasing to God our savior.