Power / Authority
He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.”
When the scribes and chief priests realized that he told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him that very hour, but they feared the people.
So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. (Luke 4:31-32 and 20:19-20 NRSV)
Jesus’ power to teach and influence people derived from the innate authority he possessed as a teacher and person who lived a moral life in keeping with the teachings of Torah. The gospels portray Jesus as generously offering acceptance and forgiveness to other people, all of them, not only some. His injunctions to live the Torah have the power of authority because he lived what he taught. Opposed to Jesus was the ruling class of his own people who had power because of their economic position in society – they were not struggling to survive, and their political position in society – representing and benefiting from the oppressive and coercive power of the occupying empire of Rome. Certainly, some of these people were religiously observant in that they practiced the forms of their religion through rites and practices. But did these individuals live the transforming faith of their religion? Did they love God by loving their neighbor, poor or rich; native or foreigner? No doubt some did while others did not, just as people today.
The power of wealth and status for some was supported by the structure and authority of the Romans. The Roman authority came from their military dominance and police power. Essentially, the Romans could make people comply through the threat of force and violence, and most people did. Many people also used their positions in much the same way as the Romans, deriving authority from their power to bring Roman police power to their cities and towns. Jesus famously did not teach violence nor even the threat of violence in any way whatsoever. In the Sermon on the Mount, he taught that if you are struck on one cheek, you should offer your other cheek, thereby declining to participate in a system where might makes right. He taught not only love for your good neighbor, but love for even your enemies. This means even the ones who hurt or try to hurt you or others. This is a way that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation that a way of violence can never accomplish.
We always live in times where some are reaching for the authority of power to enforce their vision of faithful living: religious or civil or both. One need not believe as these others do, but comply with what they believe they feel we all must. As followers of the One whose power lies in his loving, respectful, inclusive, moral authority, we must not succumb the authority of power, any power that would deny the innate goodness of each person created in God’s image (that is every human person of every type and stripe) and we must stand for the power of authority – the goodness of the Creator and all their creation.