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BY WHOSE AUTHORITY?
4th Sunday Ordinary Time B
In today’s gospel (Mark 1:21-28) we read that Jesus had “authority” over unclean spirits and his fame spread everywhere in the region. Jesus’s authority did not come from any government official or written document. His authority emanated from his charismatic being, his Spirit, and he released it for the common good. People believed him because he spoke to their needs.
There are a lot of people who exercise “authority” throughout the world these days. Who or what gives them that power? In the government of the United States powers and authorities exercised by elected officials are outlined in the Constitution and its amendments. While those rights of individuals are stated in that document not all citizens have been or are treated in the same way because of the “hard hearted” divisions in this country.
On the local level there are various authorities at work to protect and represent all people and to see that everyone has a fair chance to advance in society with dignity and equity regardless of race, religion, gender or ethnicity. However, these aspirations, also rooted in the Constitution, are hard to realize. Consider, for one example, the growing gap between wealthy and poor people.
In the Catholic Church, the pope is considered the supreme authority. His ecclesial ministry is most notable in matters of faith and morals. In principle this authority is shared by bishops and the laity.  The role of the Holy Spirit acting in the entire body of the church is extremely important but often difficult to accept because the hierarchy continues to ignore the insights and contributions of so many people.
The polarization that exists in civic societies is not new in religious ones. It is clear that Pope Francis does not have the support or obedience in his own household. There are clergy and laity who question the pope’s teaching authority and power to lead. Because of these divisions people yearn for truthful and authentic voices. Organized religions are expected to provide moral leadership.
What kind of authority did Jesus have? Where did that power come from? In general, there are at least two forms of power and authority according to James Rowe Adams.  First is the power that enforces obedience. This kind of authority uses coercive means to rule over the people who have no voice. The second type is the power to influence or inspire. This is a more collaborative authority that seeks out the wisdom of the group.
A close reading of the Second (New) Testament clearly suggests that, in the beginning, the followers of Jesus used their teaching authority to influence and inspire others. These early disciples believed that the kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus’s power over the unclean spirit reported in today’s gospel metaphorically signaled an end to the oppressive regimes that ruled the world. Jesus announced a new day was coming. And, he backed up his words with action.
In the words of Dennis Hamm: “To say that the ‘kingdom of God’ is at hand is to draw upon the apocalyptic world view and to say that God is about to manifest divine kingship by rescuing God's people from whatever oppresses them ….”
Hamm continued: “When we find ourselves depressed and oppressed by the evil we detect in others, perhaps we best hear the authoritative teaching of Jesus when we hear it as a call to our own further conversion.”
In his sermon at the inaugural prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral the Rev. William J. Barber II  likened the invasion of the Capitol to the many breaches that exist in our country. He said, “According to the imagery of Isaiah … a breach occurs when there is a gap in the nation between what is and how God wants things to be.” Barber added that unity without action will get us nowhere.
Seekers of unity, reconciliation, and peace? Repairers of the breaches? What action is required to achieve such ambitious agendas? With the witness of Jesus in mind what is holding us back from releasing the Spirit inside us?
Starting with our personal lives we can clean out the demons, the evil forces that consume us and mislead us. In doing so we can regain our true identity as a Spirit-filled people with a purpose. We are not to be led by suspect powers that take advantage of us. We do not want a new normal that is merely the old normal in disguise.
Instead we want to take control of our destinies to find ways to emerge with new energy, new composure, new agendas, to shape the world we live in. In doing so our collegial authority and power, rooted in a divine presence in and among us, will influence and inspire others just like Jesus of Nazareth did.
1. See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 874-913.
2. Adams was the rector of St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill for 50 years before his retirement. He also founded The Center for Progressive Christianity.
3. Barber is President and Senior Lecturer at Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.