What must it have been like to encounter the earthly Jesus, to meet him
as he went about his ministry? When the gospels attempt to share
something of this with us, they are no doubt hindered by the
impossibility of rendering such an experience in words. But a common
refrain in the gospels describes Jesus as "speaking with authority."
This is in our gospel for today along with another common refrain,
demons recognizing Jesus.
I think that both of these refrains are attempts to describe Jesus'
spiritual presence. Jesus taught just as many other rabbis did. He
read from the same scriptures and his teachings sometimes had much in
common with others. But even when he said the very same thing as
others it sounded different, and people could sense it. "They were
astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority."
In the same way, demons recognizing Jesus speaks of this same spiritual
presence. We don't live in the world of the gospel writers, a world
that was filled with demons that caused all sorts of things we would
attribute to other causes. But the fear expressed by these semi-divine
agents of the First Century speaks to an incredible spiritual presence
in Jesus, a vivid sense of God at work that could bend events toward
I think the Church would do well to focus more on this issue of
presence. We need to realize that authority is less about facts and
ideas well marshaled, presented, and argued, and more about God's
presence. The hunger for spirituality in our day is in many ways a
hunger for just such an authority.
The presence and authority that Jesus manifested was all out of
proportion to the number of followers he had, the financial resources
at his disposal, or his connections to people in power. It was the
power of spiritual presence, of God actively at work in him. And as
the body of Christ, the Church also must seek this sort of power and
authority, one derived from God's presence palpably moving in our
midst. Even in a day when congregations face shrinking numbers and
financial resources, when we draw nearer to God, when we become more
open to the Spirit, our authority grows, and we become truer to our
call of being Christ to the world.