They [the disciples and Jesus] went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
This week’s reading reminds me of the one about a cop who goes to the property of an old farmer and says to him, “I need to inspect your property. There’s been a complaint that you have an illegal plantation here.” The farmer responds, “Okay, inspect whatever you want, but do not go to that spot over there,” and points to an area behind the barn. The cop furiously yells, “Do you not know that I have the power of authority with me?!!!” And he takes a badge from his pocket gets in the face of the farmer. “This badge gives me the authority to go where I want!!! And enter into any property!! And I do not need to ask or answer any questions. Is that clear? Do you understand?” The farmer very politely apologizes and goes back to what he was doing. A few minutes later, he hears a scream and sees the officer running to save his own life while being pursued by the biggest bull on the farm. With each step the bull gets closer and closer to the cop and it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to outrun the bull. He’s terrified with a ghastly look on his face. Mercifully, the farmer drops his tools, runs to the fence, and screams at the top of his lungs, “The badge, show him the badge!”
Oh, how easy it is to get caught up in whatever authority we think we have. Whether it’s in the home or in the workplace, we’re all given some degree of authority. Maybe you’re an only child or the oldest child. Maybe you’re a single parent or a wedded parent…though I don’t think anyone has authority in a marriage! Maybe you’re a boss over others or you’re entrusted to work alone. Maybe you serve as a consultant to large company or you manage a small mom-and-pop business. God entrusts each of us with some small degree of authority so that we can each believe we are the masters of our own destinies. We need to believe that each of us has control over our own lives if we are to ever really experience any type of joy…or so we like to tell ourselves! In reality, having authority actually involves having responsibilities and expectations. Authority comes with a very high price in terms of freedom and anonymity. Once you’ve been given authority, it’s hard, if not impossible, to remain unknown or insignificant. Authority is both a blessing and a curse. People expect more out of you and are constantly testing the legitimacy of your authority. They want to ensure that you actually deserve your authority and are continuously poking at it, trying to find any inconsistencies or unworthiness. Just look at that smart aleck in the opening joke. He clearly didn’t think the cop deserved his authority and made a mockery of it as the cop was running for safety. Yes, it is a hard thing having authority, almost not worth it at times.
All throughout his ministry, Jesus was plagued by people who questioned his authority. One could even say his death was one final test of his authority. People had a real hard time believing he was who he said he was and given adequate authority to reign over all people at all times. Even his own disciples were continuously amazed by his authority as we heard in our reading for this morning. “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey them.” Of course they obey him! Jesus is not like any other man. Jesus is God himself. Unclean spirits and clean spirits alike must submit to his authority, whether they want to or not. Jesus has the ultimate authority over all things, at all times! Just look at all the mighty deeds he performs in the very first chapter of Mark. Our reading picks up right after he has called all his disciples to follow him. With a faithful entourage in tow, Jesus dove right into his earthly ministry. He exorcised the unclean spirit from the man and all sorts of people as well as healed man afflicted with leprosy. Jesus knew his time had come to assert his authority and revealed to all the world God’s full glory and had no hesitation in doing just that.
Believe it or not, Jesus has authority over all our lives. Everything we say or do are gracious gifts of our loving God. He so graciously allows us to exist in this time and this place and has entrusted each of us to serve and love those around us right here, right now. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus. We celebrated the rebirth of love in this time and place. Jesus was born anew to shine and share his love with the world in the year ahead. Jesus speaks for God and is God. Now don’t get me all tied up in any of the heresies from throughout the centuries that involved explaining the Triune God. “How can Jesus speak for God and be God at the same time?” Thus is the mystery of the Triune God! He is paradoxically inexplicable! But Jesus’ authority rests in the belief that he is fully God. He has the voice of God, not just a spokesperson of God like a prophet or preacher or teacher. When Jesus speaks, God is speaking. We ought to listen and heed his command. It has the authority of God himself.
We know that God’s authority over our lives ought to be honored and respected. We live and die according to His Word. His Word is what created all there is as we hear in the opening verses of Genesis. We heed the wisdom of Hebrews when spoken, “by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (11:3) God created all there is through words! Those are some pretty mighty words! We can’t see them yet they put into existence entire worlds that we can see. They are the words of life. Recall what Jesus cited in the book of Matthew, “it is written, ‘one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (4:4) God’s words give life…true life…everlasting life! Only those with the highest authority can bring forth life through words alone. God and Jesus have the highest authority of them all.
As we embark on another year of shared ministry, let us remember who it is that leads us through whatever the year has in store for us. Jesus is more than a prophet or teacher. Jesus is God and speaks with the highest authority. Jesus will guide us through the year with unwavering love and compassion. Jesus said, “my sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Let us follow his voice in the year ahead. And let us be ever thankful for it…thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.