February 1, 2009


The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. – Mk. 1: 22

The word ‘authority’ is a bugaboo in the American vocabulary. Too often we confuse it with ‘authoritarian’ which connotes an arbitrary & unjust exercise of power just for its own sake, & we pride ourselves on being rugged individualists, nonconformists, rebels who specialize in breaking the rules. ‘Authoritarian’ would indeed apply to the Scribes & Pharisees who tried to impose a straight jacket of legal rules upon people’s behavior.

‘Authority’ itself, however, is a very different matter. Anyone anxious to excel in football would not blink at taking seriously what someone like Bear Bryant would ask them to do. After all, he had a proven track record of being a winning coach. Barak Obama, on the other hand does not yet have a proven track record, but he does seem to have a way with words that inspires confidence in many that he has what it takes to be a leader in difficult times. Only time will tell if that confidence is justified. Suffice it to say that one who speaks with authority does not evoke fear or anger, but trust.

So with what kind of authority did Jesus speak? It was more than the healing itself. His teaching here has to do with purity codes. According to the Scribes & Pharisees, one could become defiled by contact with an unclean spirit, just as one could become defiled by contact with a dead body. The question, “What have you to do with us?” is a warning: leave us alone or you will pollute yourself. Anyone who prizes holiness will have the spiritual good sense to stay away.

But Jesus does not respect purity boundaries. He trespasses them. The people are amazed because they have seen another way to deal with the fear of impurity – do not avoid it. Bring your own stronger purity to it & cleanse it. The Spirit of God who descended upon Jesus at His baptism does not allow lesser beings to harm those whom God loves. It commands them, “Get out!” And they get out, taking with them all the pain they have caused.

We create boundaries for many reasons. One is that it is the loving thing to do. It respects rights & diversities. People who do not know limits – where they leave off & others begin – do damage to themselves & others. Without boundaries things become a formless mass, & we do not know how to proceed.

But one may cross boundaries because it too is the loving thing to do. Here Jesus crosses the boundary between clean & unclean because it had become a division leading to exclusion. The path of love in a deeply divided society is to cross boundaries to let the unlovable know that they are indeed loved.

It is reassuring to know that God will not respect the boundaries we ourselves erect to keep Him out of our lives. The miracle in this case is the realization that God will not let our sinfulness keep Him from reaching out to us & cleansing us from our unclean spirits so that we will no longer be considered unclean & excluded from His loving embrace. AMEN!