“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching– with authority!”
Of the many people who influence our lives, our school teachers are among the real heroes of this world. I know I was a real challenge to many of my teachers, and most of them exhibited a lot of patience with me.
There were a few who I really couldn’t get along with, and most of those were men, but we all have at least one who really stands out as one who influenced us in very positive ways.
I had an English Literature teacher in high school who really inspired me to read. Up until that time, I hated to read, but somehow she made the classics come alive. She taught as one who had authority.
What does it mean to have authority? The dictionary says authority means that one has the right or power to determine, or command, or to control something.
When we hear the phrase, “The authorities,” we often think of Law Enforcement, and to be sure we as a society give the police the authority to serve and protect, and to enforce the laws passed by a legislature.
If someone has authority, it means that someone above their pay grade has granted it. What little authority I have to stand before you is given to me by our bishop. When he speaks, I listen.
At any gathering of the clergy, it’s the same way. When Bp. Reed speaks, we all listen. We are under his authority, and his words matter to us.
When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, he caused quite a stir. Mark wrote, “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Of course, he had to get in a little dig at the scribes! Who were the scribes, anyway? Why were they so important, and why was Jesus always arguing with them?
The scribes were men who could read the Hebrew Scriptures, they could give interpretations of it based on certain situations, and they could write commentaries on the scriptures.
You know about the book of Ezra in the Bible, well Ezra, “was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses which the LORD the God of Israel had given; For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:6 and 10)
So you see that the scribes had started out to be focused on the good things of the Law, and helped Israel learn its true heritage while in captivity in Persia.
By the time of Jesus, the scribes had become a powerful force in the Jewish culture, as they were among the few who could read and write, so their interpretations of the Law of Moses carried a lot of weight.
The trouble began when their pride crept in, and they added more and more requirements of the Law, and perhaps were proud of the fact that they along could follow the Law completely.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we heard today, he had something to say about this:
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. (1 Corinthians 8:1b-13)
The scribes were probably pretty puffed up! Jesus saw them to be acting right on the outside, but not living up to the Law in their hearts.
Jesus would later use a word to describe such as actor, which from the Greek word, is a hypocrite. Such a person acts one way on the outside, while acting another way on the inside. So it would be fair to say that technically, all actors are hypocrites. Just sayin.
Rather than teach like the scribes, Jesus gave a new teaching, and with such authority, as well. Of course, we know who gives Jesus the authority, and it is the Author of Creation himself, Our God and Father. Jesus came to world to call all sinners to repentance.
Sometime we Christians are painted by the world as self-righteous hypocrites, because we abide by the Word of God, rather than the whims of modern culture. In truth, we know our own sins all too well, and we know our need for forgiveness. That’s why we come to church, to meet the Holy One of God himself who has the authority to call the evil out of us, to forgive our sins, and call us to holiness. As I like to say, the church is not a country club for saints, it is a reform school for sinners.
We come to church as a community, to hear the Holy Scriptures, and to receive the Holy Sacraments, to the nourishment of our minds, bodies, and souls.
The teaching of Jesus was new because instead of criticizing people for not living up the standards of the Law of Moses, he raised up the lowly and meek, teaching them that they were woryour of the Love of God. “Blessed are the poor, the meek… the lowly in heart,” he said. Jesus reaches out his hand to all of us, and especially those who are persecuted, marginalized, and harassed.
No longer were people driven to climb to the heights of heaven by good works of the Law, by giving large amounts of money to the Temple, and by offering the perfect sacrificial animals to take away their sins. The kingdom of heaven came to them, through the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus forgave the sins of those who most needed a word from God, but were too afraid to even ask. And he wants to forgive our sins as well, and he will, before we even have the courage to ask.
This is our hope, that despite all the wickedness in the world, our Father loves us and will never abandon us. Amen.