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Saint of the Day: St. John I
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What’s truly astonishing about Jesus isn’t his teaching

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Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 01/27/24

After all, the word “authority” comes from the Latin auctoritas — “what makes one grow.”

Jesus enters a synagogue and teaches, and the people are astonished at his teaching because “he taught them as one having authority” (the Gospel for this Sunday). But what exactly did Jesus teach? The answer: We don’t have a clue. And that is just the point: What astonishes the hearers in the synagogue is not the content of Jesus’ teaching but rather Jesus himself.

Invitation to Communion

In fact, there is no distinction between the two. Cardinal Ratzinger explained this: 

Jesus’ proclamation was never mere preaching, mere words; it was “sacramental,” in the sense that his words were and are inseparable from his “I” — from his “flesh”. Jesus does not convey a knowledge that is independent from his own person, as any teacher or storyteller would do. He is something different from, and more than, a rabbi. The fundamental difference between the preaching of Jesus and the lessons of the rabbis consists precisely in the fact that the “I” of Jesus — that is, he himself — is at the center of his message. 

He went on to say more about this as Pope Benedict XVI:

The preaching of God’s Kingdom is never just words, never just instruction. It is an event, just as Jesus himself is an event, God’s Word in person. More than just the proclamation of a message, the preaching of the Gospel is seen as a witness to the person of Jesus Christ and an invitation to enter into communion with him.

One with authority

What makes the people marvel is that they perceive Jesus to be one who teaches with “authority”. My question is: How did they know that Jesus was teaching with authority? Did they all have a Ph.D. in theology? The people are able to recognize that Jesus teaches with authority because true authority has a palpable effect on us. Authority changes us, moving us to action. True authority corresponds with something we aspire to from our depths linked to our happiness and peace.

The preaching of Jesus pierces the resistance and defenses which keep us closed in ourselves. It penetrates to that locked up place inside us, a place of darkness and desolation, so that we can feel the closeness of God, the mystery of God. The authority of Jesus countermands the powerlessness that paralyzes us. It makes us come alive, healing inner divisions. It breathes freedom into our souls, liberates, brings the light of hope, a second chance. Thanks to the authority we experience in Jesus, we realize that we are not alone in our misery, not alienated … even from ourself … that we are truly summoned and accompanied. After all, the word “authority” comes from the Latin auctoritas — “what makes one grow.”

The presentation of Jesus Christ in the synagogue proclaims that now there is an astonishing Presence on the planet eager to bring the very life and holiness of God to anyone who allows themself to be touched by his irresistible authority. “Authority is a new face, full of greater desire that evokes in us a greater desire” (Fr. Julián Carrón).

Becoming an authority

And we can’t live without that. We have a constant need in our life for an authority who keeps us from closing in on ourselves, from measuring things according to our own defective standards, and who opens our heart continually. But with Christ’s preaching today comes the promise that the offer of his authority is permanent. 

Even more, exposure to Jesus’ authority intends to make us authorities. We become an authority by acknowledging the exceptionality of Jesus that so astonishes us, by obeying what he reveals, and by habitually living from the memory of that life-changing encounter. “Authority is a person who, when you see them, you can see how what Christ says corresponds to your heart” (L. Giussani). Then, together, we can enter into communion with Jesus.


Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.

Find his series of brief reflections on prayer here.

And his new series on the Eucharist here.

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