Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Teaching with Authority
It is said that the following incident took place off of Massachusetts back in the early 50's. It was a stormy night at sea and a large battleship saw a light in the distance. The light was directly on the ship’s course. The captain of the ship was alerted and had a radio message sent out: “Light up ahead, bear ten degrees south.” The captain received the reply, "Sir, you must bear ten degrees North." The captain grew furious and got onto the radio himself and yelled, "I am Captain James Smith, that’s captain in the United States Navy. Whoever you are, I am ordering you to bear ten degrees south. Who are you, and what is your rank?" He heard the feeble answer, "This is Seaman First Class Howard Scott, Sir, you must bear ten degrees north." The captain barked out, “I am on the bridge of the Battleship USS New Jersey, and I am telling you to bear ten degrees south." Then he heard the reply, "But, Sir, I am in the Baker’s Island Light House, and you had better bear ten degrees North."
A statement carries authority according to two aspects: who is speaking and what is being said. The captain had authority due to his rank. The seaman had authority due to what was said. Jesus had both. He had authority because of Who He was. He was the Son of God, the Messiah of God, and the Eternal One who became man on Christmas. He also had authority due to what He said. He spoke the Father’s Word to us. He said, “Love your enemies. Be kind to one another.” He spoke with His actions. He spoke about God's kingdom and lived as the ideal member of that kingdom. He himself was a kind, loving person. On the cross, He called to His Father for forgiveness for those who were torturing and killing Him. He had authority, and He has authority. We need to listen and follow.
He calls us to speak for Him. He gives us authority. For us to exercise this authority we must live as committed Christians.
Many times our papers report religious scandals. Charismatic TV preachers, Roman Catholic bishops and priests, have been caught acting in the immoral ways. The message that they had been delivering from their pulpits for years was true. Many people were moved to come closer to God. Many people confronted their own demons and took steps to change their lives. They recognized that the clergyman had authority. But when the scandal hit the papers, the clergyman’s message lost its impact. The one who delivered it was not true to his own words. As a result, his credibility, his authority was destroyed.
We all have authority. We have authority as Christians and as Roman Catholics. People recognize this authority when they ask us, “What is it that you believe? How is it that you are so happy?” We have the authority to answer, “We believe in the real presence of the Lord in Word and Sacrament. So often we know that we have a special relationship with the Lord. We particularly experience this in our liturgies and in Eucharistic Adoration.” But if we throw away our relationship with the Lord in order to join others in immorality, others see this and no longer give us authority to speak for the Lord. If we are hypocritical, people will not want to hear us speak about Jesus.
Parents and grandparents have an additional authority. Parents and grandparents have authority due to their position in the family. God tells children to honor their mothers and fathers. That is the Fourth Commandment. Grandparents have the authority as patriarchs and matriarchs of their families. But the authority of parents and grandparents is diminished or even destroyed when they act in ways that are not Christian. For example, all parents want their children to be kind to each other. But if their children observe Mom and Dad being nasty to each other, the children are going to learn nastiness, not kindness, as standard way of acting. When these same parents say to their children that they should be kind to each other, the children respond with their actions that their parents no longer have authority to tell them how to behave.
That is negative. Let us look at the positive. Many of our seniors have spent years taking care of their sick spouses. Retirement was not what they expected. Instead of going and doing, their days were spent caring and cleaning, and organizing doctor appointments. But when someone makes a comment that he or she is such a good spouse, the caring spouse merely says, “I took vows.” And in those few words supported with a lifetime of action, that husband or wife speaks more eloquently about marriage than any priest or preacher could possibly speak. For his or her words have authority, the authority of the One who called him to the sacrament of marriage and the authority of the spouse who lives the sacrament of marriage.
There are times that people confront us for living a clean life. They even mock us. But deep within themselves, they want to be like us. They give us authority to reveal God’s Word to them.
Jesus did not call us just to do some of the things He did, He called us to be His presence for others. We are called to destroy evil in our world. We cannot do this unless we are determined to be Christ like. We have to speak in the way that Jesus spoke. Jesus spoke with authority. He was not like the scribes and Pharisees. He was not two faced. He was not hypocritical. He didn't have a dark side of his life that he kept hidden. He did not just speak the truth, He was the Truth Incarnate. Jesus gave orders to unclean spirits, and they obeyed Him. It was not just His words that expelled demons. It was the person who spoke those words.
Today we pray that we use the authority we have received well by living genuine, sincere Christian lives. For there are many people who give us the authority to point them to the One who makes all life complete.