The episode is surprising and dramatic. It all occurs in the «synagogue», the place where the Law is officially taught, since it needs to be interpreted by authorized teachers. It happens on the «Sabbath», the day when practicing Jews come together to listen to the commentary of their leaders. It’s in this context that Jesus begins to «teach» for the first time.
Nothing is said about the content of his words. This isn’t what is interesting here, but the impact that his intervention produces. Jesus provokes astonishment and admiration. The people catch on to something special in him, something that they haven’t found in their religious teachers: Jesus «doesn’t teach like the Scribes, but he teaches with authority».
Those who have studied, teach in the name of their institution. They hold to their traditions. They refer once and again to the celebrated teachers of the past. Their authority flows from their function of officially interpreting the Law. Jesus’ authority is different. It doesn’t come from any institution. It’s not based on tradition. It has another origin. It’s full of God’s life-giving Spirit.
They will be able to verify this pretty quickly. Out of the blue a possessed man interrupts his teaching with shouting. He can’t take it any longer. He’s frightened: «Have you come to do away with us?». That man felt okay listening to the Scribes’ teaching. Why does he now feel threatened?
Jesus doesn’t come to destroy anyone. His authority is precisely in giving life to people. His teaching humanizes and frees from slavery. His words invite confidence in God. His message is the best news that such a man who is tormented within could hear. When Jesus heals him, the people exclaim: «Here is a teaching that is new, and with authority behind it».
Polls indicate that the Church’s word is losing its authority and credibility. It’s not enough to speak authoritatively to announce the Good News of God. It’s not sufficient to transmit tradition correctly to open hearts to the joy of the faith. What we urgently need is a teaching that is new. We aren’t «Scribes», but disciples of Jesus. We need to communicate his message, not our traditions. We need to teach by healing lives, not indoctrinating minds. We need to announce God’s Spirit, not our theologies.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf