Just after beginning to gather disciples, Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum for the sabbath and teaches there. The people are amazed at the authority in his teaching – they say it is not like the scribes. Perhaps the scribes were simply reciting what others taught and not sharing their own insights or were unclear and confusing. Whatever the shortcomings of the scribes, Jesus’ teaching is different. There is a power to what he says. It catches the peoples’ attention and has an impact on them. Then Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. The spirit cries out to Jesus, expressing uncertainty and fear. The spirit identifies Jesus saying, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” In his first miracle, Jesus rebukes the spirit and casts it out of the man. The authority in Jesus’ teaching is reflected in his authority over the unclean spirit.
Authority and power and tricky. They can be used in helpful ways or in harmful ways. We see many different examples of authority and its uses all around us. There are all sorts of examples in the news, our work settings, the university, families, relationships with friends. Power can be used in selfish and harmful ways, focusing on the self. Power can also be used in generous and transforming ways, focusing on helping others.
Jesus uses his power and authority in generous and life-giving ways, transforming the life of the man possessed. Jesus saves him from a life afflicted by the presence and control of the unclean spirit. Jesus uses his authority to release the man from the evil that holds him, reunite the man with the family he has been separated from, and renews the man’s opportunity to live life to the fullest. Over and over through the gospels, we see that this is what Jesus and his ministry bring. Authority and power used for good.