T HE POWER OR RIGHT to give orders, to make decisions, to enforce obedience. That is the definition of authority.
The power or right. Some people claim authority without the power or right to do so. A movie star encourages us to try the peanut butter and celery diet as a great way to lose weight. They just so happen to have a new book with instructions on how to do it.
Some people have the power of authority but fail to use it. Wasted authority results in indecisiveness when a decision should be made. With the stroke of a pen or a pointed phone call change could happen at school, or work, or in our city. But nothing is done.
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OVER AND AGAIN, the question of authority comes up when Jesus is involved.
Immediately, Jesus comes to the synagogue at Capernaum and teaches. The people are amazed. Jesus stands in the synagogue and interprets the Law in a new way. Different takes on familiar scriptures.
Jesus speaks as if he wrote the book. It is exciting but also disconcerting. Who is this man that teaches as someone with authority?
Immediately, Jesus’ teaching is interrupted by a man possessed with an unclean spirit. He cries out Jesus’ name. There is power in knowing another’s name. It was believed that knowing someone’s name gives the person (who knows the name) power over the one named.
By calling out “Jesus of Nazareth,” the demon thinks he displays power over Jesus. “I know you. I can control you.” But we quickly learn that is not the case.
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NOT ONLY DOES Jesus teach with authority, Jesus acts with authority. This “authority” extends over even the most unclean of spirits.
With a word, the demon convulses out of the man. The people wonder about this man. The demon knows this man.
The Scribes doubt. They do not doubt Jesus’ power. They doubt this power comes from God. Mark 3 “By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”
In Mark 11, they point-blank ask Jesus: “[w]ho gave you authority to do this?”
The gospel proclaims over and again through his teaching, through his actions, that Jesus has the authority of God.
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DEMONS CONTINUE to take us over; evil forces wreak havoc within us. Powers that possess us as a community, as a nation, and as members of the human race. Evil forces intent on destroying us. We need to name them and cast them out.
Naming our demons recognizes that they exist. To name the unclean spirits that possess our lives. The first acknowledgment that people in a 12-step program make is this, “We admit we are powerless over alcohol (or drugs, sex, gambling, eating, shopping, etc.) — that our lives have become unmanageable.”
They name the demon.
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WHAT ARE the powerful spirits in our lives that must be named? Powers from which no amount of human effort can save us. Powers and principalities within us to spoil everything. These powers are more real that we give them credit for being.
Denial does not eradicate the presence of evil in our midst. The demons of mob violence, of racism, and hatred. Demons of religious and ideological intolerance, poverty, terrorism, extreme individualism, globalization, demons of media-infused fear. To name just a few.
All are evidence of something abroad on the earth, which is potent, which has power greater than our ability alone to cast out.
Unless we name the demons, they will name us; they will control us and destroy us.
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JESUS HAS AUTHORITY over the negative powers that bind us. Jesus speaks with authority and people are set free.
Jesus acts and liberation happens — liberating people from the powers that afflict them and keep all creation — including human bodies and human societies — from flourishing.
This is a new teaching, but also a demonstration of the radical newness of Jesus’ authority or power. This is action, but also a demonstration of the radical power of Jesus over the evil in our lives and this world. This morning in the synagogue ends as it began — immediately.
■ Immediately Jesus came to the synagogue.
■ Immediately, the man with an unclean spirit interrupted.
■ Immediately Jesus’ fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
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AND IT IS with immediacy that we hear this text today. In our hearing, the truth of Jesus’ authority is made known.
This is our epiphany word in a world of unclean spirits. Jesus Christ has sole authority to cleanse and make whole whatever unclean spirits possess and control our lives.
This is the gospel! Thanks be to God!