First Reading: Dt 18:15-20; Psalm: 95. R. v. 7d. 8a; Second Reading: 1 Cor 7:32-35; Gospel: Mk 1:21b-28
FROM DERIVATIVE TO DEFINITIVE AUTHORITY
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
The synagogue plays a very significant role in the faith of the Jewish people. It could possibly have more influential factor in the Jewish religious life than the temple for the following reasons: The synagogue is a house of religious gathering where three main spiritual exercises take place. It is a place for prayer, reading of the Scripture and exposition of it. By law, wherever there were ten or more Jewish family, there should be a synagogue there. We could simply say that the synagogue is a place where the faith of the Jewish people is nurtured. On a Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue in the city of Capernaum to teach, and something new happened.
Prior to this eventful visit of Jesus to the synagogue, the teaching role was open to the scribes (teachers of the law) or any competent person called upon by the Ruler of the synagogue. But their teachings was by derivative authority unlike Jesus who taught by definitive authority. What’s the difference?
Derivative authority is the potency and knowledge to teach or instruct derived from higher authorities on the subject matter. When parents teach their children morals, they use rich proverbs and wise sayings of their forebears to buttress and give credence to what they teach. When teachers and professors teach a subject or course in school, they consult on the teachings and discoveries of higher authorities on the subject matter to communicate the adequate knowledge. For instance, we cannot discuss physics without recourse to Albert Einstein whose work has profound impact on modern physics. Every knowledge builds on existent knowledge. Derivative authority therefore is a pattern of human learning that depends on the existent knowledge or teachings of higher authorities. This was the pattern of teaching adopted by the scribes.
When the scribes taught the people, they quoted the Torah (The first five books of the Bible). The scribes are understood to occupy the seat of Moses. They cannot teach the people without quoting the laws of Moses; for their teaching authority is derived from the Torah. In fact, what the scribes basically did was to pass on all the teachings of the Torah to the people, and to interpret them to their understanding. The same applies to the prophets. Whenever they spoke in the Scripture, they started by saying: “Thus says the Lord.” The people were conversant with this kind of bland teaching until Jesus entered the synagogue that fateful day and changed the status quo.
Why were the people in the synagogue moved and inspired by the teachings of Jesus? It was because Jesus taught definitively. Definitive authority is the potency and knowledge to teach or instruct originating from the teacher himself. Jesus spoke from the authority of his person; from the authority of his witness. He quoted no authority. He was himself the authority and the point of reference. In his words is the finality of all there is to know in what he taught which trumps the careful quotations of the scribes. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:21-48 on the law and the prophets explains this better. Jesus taught definitively; “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; . . . But I say to you . . .” Jesus would then add his definitive teaching. This unprecedented style of teaching was what the people experienced in the synagogue that left them thunderstruck.
Our gospel reading of today did not disclose what exactly Jesus taught the people in the synagogue. But one thing is sure. Whenever Jesus speaks, his words and actions are harmoniously communicated. They were never at variance with each other. The clause “But I say to you” could only be uttered by someone on a high moral ground. This is the main attribute of definitive authority. For one can only speak definitively and inspire people at the same time if s/he possesses the high moral ground to do so.
Definitive authority is a prophetic character. What the sacrament of baptism does to us is to elevate us from derivative to definitive authority. From merely studying and understanding the Scripture to living it out in word and deed. It is at this point that the gospel becomes powerful and effective to dispel evil. Little wonder the unclean spirit 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.” The light of the gospel shines so brightly to expose and dispel the darkness of evil when our prophetic voices are enfleshed with the deeds of holiness.
At baptism we received the priestly, kingly and prophetic character to witness to the gospel. Our readings today remind us to rekindle our prophetic character. Moses prophesied that the Lord God will raise a prophet like him from among us. Christ is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. In Christ we have received the power to share in this prophetic role.
A prophet is one who shares the love and truth of God at all times by word and example. The definitive authority of a prophet lies on the harmony between what is said and what is done. This binary feature of a prophet must not be lacking in our prophetic ministry as Disciples of Christ. Otherwise our prophetic voices become bland and ineffective.
As parents, when we teach our children morals through derivative authority; they may listen and feel inspired. But the definitive potency of our actions has that irresistible influence to make a statement and change our hearers. Words may only inspire; but action creates change. The devil is frightened when we hear the Word of God but flees when we do them. What makes a good pastor is not how well he preaches but how well he models his life after Christ. People may get bored or feel distracted when we preach or teach; but will definitely not turn a blind eye to the things we do. Our friends may not remember all that we say to them; but what we do to them leaves an indelible impression.
As we carry out our prophetic role as witnesses of the gospel, we must always remember that this binary character of the harmony between word and action gives potency and impact to our prophetic ministry as disciples of the gospel. If a prophet is the bearer of truth; then this truth should reflect in the consonance between what is preached and what is lived. And just as the fame of Jesus spread everywhere throughout the surrounding region of Galilee; our prophetic witnesses will bring Christ to the doorsteps of all in need of salvation.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, make us true witnesses of your gospel in word and deed. Amen.