The Authority of Jesus
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28)
Jesus had grown in knowledge, wisdom, and power, but these qualities sometimes went unnoticed because of his personal context. Only in the synagogue where all the eyes of the community were upon him was he willing to speak to them with power. It is difficult to see from the text the many ways his words were understood, but there are clues. In what appears to be an event after the story from Mark 1, he compares himself to a prophet and exposes the limited understanding of the members of the synagogue.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:16-30)
Jesus spoke with authority. Since he had no authority through the power of his social or religious position, it was his embodied authority that made an impression on those listening. His authority came from bringing to their consciousness the deep spiritual knowledge each person already held. He brought to their consciousness their own capacity to love, their own ability to acknowledge the light in the other person, a universal light, a light that enlightens every human being.
This authority was part of his identity, the way that he would be known to them. Even the unconscious proclamation of the man with the unclean spirit in Capernaum showed the deep level of recognition present in those who saw and experienced the personal power of Jesus. The spirit of the Lord was present in him, upon him, as if his whole being had been immersed in living water. The materially poor were given the good news that material wealth and position were not the measure of a person. The poor in spirit were unrecognized by the spiritual leaders in authority, but Jesus chose to acknowledge the value of their suffering, and their spiritual heritage. This showed his ability to speak from a position that transcended his materially poor circumstances and his religious station in life relative to the rabbis and priests. He spoke to those who needed to take their weakness, the wounded part of themselves, and make that weakness, that wound, their strength.
The captives were to be set free. No longer bound by laws and regulations that produced a cycle of spiritual destitution, a condition created and maintained by human religious authority of the time, they were no longer to be held captive by the interpreters of laws formulated by the priests and scribes. Jesus refused to be bound by an inferior understanding of spirituality.
The physically blind mirrored the blindness of the population to the true intent of those who held power over them. They were to recover their spiritual sight—to see things as they were, not as they were told to see and understand their condition in life. Oppressed by political authority and religious authority, Jesus showed the people that they were capable of throwing off this oppression. He helped them understand that they need not accept the spiritual authority of those who had usurped power through false means, deception, and physical intimidation. Their true freedom was a different matter that was unhindered by their material condition.
The “year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61) was an acknowledgment of the eternal presence of God, that God was and is present, God whose power transcended all worldly concerns. By likening the moment to the jubilee year (Leviticus 25: 8-55), Jesus captured the hope and joy expressed in each person being acknowledged by God. The forgiveness granted in jubilee years mirrored the forgiveness inherent to God’s relationship with human beings.
The fulfilling of the scripture within their hearing, in their presence, was the understanding that all of the things of which he spoke had also been accomplished within his person and that this same authority was within them. Later, as they witnessed his transcendence, some came to understand correctly that this same transcendence was available to them. This filled some of them with fear and then rage. Jesus used the words of the prophet Isaiah to awaken them to the abuse of power by those in religious and political authority. Jesus was seen as impudent and arrogant. His words confused those who were unable to sense the source of his authority, and that is why they asked where his authority came from. He understood their thinking and he knew that many of them would later use his words to condemn him. This man, this son of Joseph, stepped into their presence in a way no one had ever stepped before and they were unprepared.
2013-136 We must begin with an understanding that the human mind is the builder. The distinction that must be made is between the creator and the builder. There must also be an understanding of law. And again, here is where we must refer back to mind as the builder. There are certain universal laws. These laws are part of the design of creation, but they do not fix creation. By this we mean they are dynamic and fluid, not static. For example, there is the law of freedom. There is the law of attraction. There are laws of growth. All of these laws function in harmony with each other. The mind and the human senses, combined with human experience, build on an incomplete understanding of these laws. That is why laws are so often expressed in the negative, “One shall not,” rather than in the positive, “Do.” It is the mind interpreting the human experience that fixes these laws, tries to make them static, tries to make them universal, and the process of building leads to a series of complexity in understanding, and the mind becomes enmeshed in this network of conditional reality: one thing depends on another and there is established a myriad of relationships. All the while, what is being built is built on a very insecure foundation. Likewise, our understanding of human beings, and in this case, Jesus: The human mind of those present around him were builders not creators, and could only build with an incomplete understanding. In seeing the person, in seeing the person’s gifts, in hearing the words, the mind with an incomplete foundation builds a hierarchy of understanding, which is easily converted into a church, an institution, but not just one, many—all of them built on an understanding that is incomplete. And because the understanding is incomplete, a close examination of those understandings reveals the flaws, the errors, the misconceptions. And like many things constructed by human beings, it is a poor representation of the original. So when we look at the life of Jesus, when we look at his personhood, the meaning and purpose of his life, we must be very careful every step of the way to understand that the mind will build structures to support its own perception of itself. We must walk carefully, understanding the function of the mind and the relationship of the mind, to the other parts of the human being.
2013-137 It is the function of perfection and the ideal to overcome any aspect of mind that builds with an incomplete understanding. It is the perfection and the ideal that prevent the ego or other aspects of mind from taking over and controlling the behavior of a human being. This is a very important understanding to have, because the behavior of a human being can be a product of the mind, but in its highest form, the behavior of a human being flows naturally from the qualities of love and freedom that are the fabric of creation. These behaviors that flow from this infinite source occur naturally and are unrestrained. They usually affect more than just the mind, more than just the heart, and this is why one’s whole sense of being is transformed by this flow of love that is unconditioned and free. This was and is the experience of those who were around Jesus. This was their experience of his presence and this is what was described as his power and his authority.