Summary: How does Christ's authority differ from the various authorities we face each day
My least favorite classes in my undergrad political science classes dealt with ‘political theory’. But I will always remember the discussion we had around the concept of ‘authority’ and what made for legitimate authority. Keep in mind this was at the winding down of Vietnam and the Watergate hearings so there are more than a few people weighing in on this discussion. Most discussions use Max Weber’s 1922 article as a starting place which lists traditional, legal-rational (utilitarian), or charismatic as the three bases for political authority (Weber, 1958). Legitimate authority is “understood as both the acceptance of authority and of the need to obey its commands (Fabienne, 2010).”
Even though much discussion legitimate vs. illegitimate authority has taken place since the mid 1970’s much hasn’t changed. ISIS holds on to an erroneous of the tradition of Islam to enforce its rule—definitely on the illegitimate side of the scale, unless you’re ISIS; so too the Taliban and Al-Qaida. The “Tea-Party” and “Occupy” fall into the charismatic group with leaders like Sal Russo and Pete Dutro.
In the 1st century there were those in Palestine who perceived the Roman rule as illegitimate, especially many of the Jews and others who housed an enemy army on their streets. Still there were some who were being taken under the wing by charismatic leaders, would be revolutionaries who sought to destroy Rome. Some must have compared their current state with the exile of Judah and Israel when God told the people to build houses and plant fields. These folks thought, there’s no use fighting it, God is God and will do what he wants. Every source of authority we’ve mentioned comes from outside one’s self. It is given by the people, granted by God or understood as having been born out of legal discussions and law.
Into this mix walks Jesus. What he does is nothing less than establishes a legitimate authority based on Himself. Label it charismatic if you’d like, but I think this takes us down the path of the Jesus Seminar and trying to figure out what Jesus would really think or do about our situations today.
When he teaches in Capernaum we don’t know what he says or what scripture he uses. We know from his experience in his home synagogue he caused a near riot when he announced that he was the one who was sent to fulfill Isaiah’s prophesy. Whatever he said here in this sea-side village it left people amazed at the way in which he taught. It is ‘as one with authority’. Perhaps it was Jesus’ failure to quote other scribes gave a hint of what was different about Jesus but what follows underlines the difference and the authority with which Jesus taught.
Here it isn’t the crowd that questions Jesus’ authority to speak but a demonic force that had possessed a man. The idea of the word “straightaway” adds “force to the sentence. It marks the immediate effect of our Lord’s preaching (Spence_Jones, 1909).”
The proof of Jesus’ authority and its legitimacy is seen in the casting out of the demon. If you ever read the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy Tolkien demonstrates this principle with Aragorn. At the Houses of Healing Aragorn heals fallen leaders during which it is noted “"The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known" (Tolkien, 1954).
So here Jesus’ casting of this demon from this man marks Christ’s authority as supreme. When confronted by this demon Jesus refuses to let it take control of the situation and become the central focus of the people gathered. So when the demon rightly calls Jesus, “The Holy One of God” Jesus muzzles it with a word (Guelich, 1998). It is not that Jesus’ style alone differed from those of the Pharisees’ scribes but the proof of the difference comes in the casting out of the demon right there and then.
Let me say, I agree with Supreme Court Justice Scalia who derailed the direction of reporter’s interview when he said, “I even believe in the Devil.” After a couple of questions the reporter asks, “Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?” to which the Justice answered:
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil (Senior, 2013).
Today, I set before you a choice as to what authority you will claim for your life. You can choose to follow the authority of the lords of progressive or the gods of the conservatives. You can seek the wisdom of the millennial voodoo donuts or hold on to the greatest-generation’s stress on obligation and responsibility. But I believe if we attempt to hold to any authority other than Jesus Himself, we will lose what we seek.