Jesus has authority, not just good ideas

June 27, 2016
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Although many have argued in recent centuries that there is no such thing as a miracle and that the Gospels' miracle stories were either invented or can be "scientifically" explained, something must have been going on.

Why would the synoptic Gospels have contained the accusation that Jesus was in league with Beelzebul - an accusation that puts Jesus in a bad light - unless it had actually been made?

The accusers refused to recognize Jesus' authority, but they still had to explain the remarkable phenomena associated with Jesus. So, they said his mighty deeds were the result of his allegiance to the devil.

Jesus, of course, throws the accusation back at his accusers: "If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out?" (Luke 11.19)

Then Jesus makes his positive assertion: "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (11.20).

The finger of God? There is an expression that goes all the way back to the exodus. Flip to Exodus, chapter eight. There, Pharaoh's magicians give up trying to outdo the miracles of Moses and Aaron. "This is the finger of God!" they tell Pharaoh.

Jesus pulls St. Peter out of the Sea of Galilee while walking on water. His power over nature, as well as demons and illness, were evidence of Jesus' great authority.

Jesus pulls St. Peter out of the Sea of Galilee while walking on water. His power over nature, as well as demons and illness, were evidence of Jesus' great authority.

Jesus has authority. He has authority and power over unclean spirits, over nature and over illness. He has the power to forgive sins. He teaches with authority.

After Jesus had been run out of Nazareth for his audacious teaching, he moved to Capernaum and taught in the synagogue there. "They were astounded at his teaching because he spoke with authority" (Lk 4.32).

The people of Capernaum were not referring to Jesus' rhetorical skills or the power of his voice. Rather, when Jesus spoke, he was not commenting on biblical passages, but speaking directly on God's behalf. Either he was a crazed lunatic or he had authority from God. The people in Capernaum thought it was the latter.

SIMPLY REBUKES DEMONS

Jesuit Father Gerald O'Collins writes, "The power of Jesus was very apparent in his exorcisms. He did not begin by laying on hands, using incantations or appealing in prayer to God for the expulsion of demons.

"He simply rebuked them, commanded them and cast them out" (Jesus: A Portrait, 66).

Especially in Luke's Gospel, Jesus' speaking with authority is closely linked with the authority he has over demons, illnesses and nature. The power of his word is tightly interwoven with the power of his actions.

As such, Jesus is not just giving us something to think about, provocative ideas that we can accept or reject. We can reject those "ideas" alright, but in doing so, we are taking a side - the wrong side - in the ultimate battle between good and evil, God and Satan.

KINGDOM OF GOD

In the Beelzebul discussion, Jesus announces that his casting out of demons is a demonstration that the kingdom of God has come. He does not say his miracles prove that he is God; he frames the discussion in terms of the kingdom.

The modern debate over miracles has been waged over the causes of remarkable phenomena. A miracle is an event for which there is no natural explanation. Therefore, it must have a supernatural cause. Because of that, it gives strong evidence for the existence of God.

None of this was of concern for people at the time of Jesus. For them, these signs and wonders, and Jesus' speaking with authority were evidence of the renewal of the covenant.

RESTORED TO COMMUNITY

The healing miracles, for example, not only brought people back to good physical health, but also restored their membership among the People of God. No longer were they impure outsiders.

Scripture scholar N.T. Wright also points out that several the miracles contain overtones of the exodus - the calming of the seas and the providing of bread in the wilderness.

For the 500 years since the end of the Babylonian exile, God has been silent. Now, with great power and authority, Jesus is renewing the covenant with a new exodus.

The people of Jesus' time would see this clearly. They would not be concerned with proving the existence of God or with Jesus' overcoming scientific laws of which they were ignorant.

PROPHET IN THEIR MIDST

What they would know is that a prophet is in their midst, a prophet whose message is underlined by his power to bring those outside the fold back into the covenant.

That prophet is more powerful than those who oppose God. His eye is always on the Father, and he always does the Father's will. He even gives his disciples a share in his power and authority. God is not only faithful to his word, but his word has become human.

Jesus' authority is a sign of God's renewed love for his people. God has not forgotten them; he has come into their midst in a new exodus.