Over the last week, I have been on the road to central and western Wyoming. I celebrated Masses with St. Margaret’s School in Riverton (January 24) and Holy Spirit School in Rock Springs (January 25). I also visited the people of St. Christopher Parish in Eden and the parish leaders in Rock Springs because both communities are developing building projects.
Then I went to Jackson for an ecumenical prayer service, Friday Mass with the Latino Catholics and weekend Masses at Our Lady of the Mountains (OLM) in Jackson and Holy Family in Thayne. As people gathered for the Saturday evening Mass at OLM, a moose wandered onto the church property. It was a great photo op! Following is the homily from the weekend Masses.
Imagine the astonishment of people as they saw Jesus cast out the demon in the possessed man (Mark 1:21-28). The people said, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk. 1:27). In chapter 2 of Mark’s gospel, we see that authority again as he forgives the sins of a paralytic, then heals him by saying “Arise, pick up your mat and walk” (Mk. 2:11).
Disciples of Jesus live in awe of his authority, and they act with his authority. In Mark 3:15 and 6:7, Jesus chooses the Twelve and sends them. Both passages state that “he gave them authority over unclean spirits.” In John 20:23, the risen Christ gives them authority to forgive sins. Disciples of Jesus live in awe of his authority, and they act with his authority. This is true for all disciples, not just the clergy. We are empowered with his Spirit from baptism.
What was the attitude behind Jesus authority? What adjectives could we use to describe his authority? What did it look like? If we know that, then it will help us know what his authority should look like for his disciples.
The first way to describe Jesus’ authority is to call it a childlike authority. His primary relationship was as the beloved Son of the Father. At his baptism he hears God say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). As Jesus prays he says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father” (Mt. 11:27). He experienced the Father giving him all his gifts — the Holy Spirit, his power and authority. His primary relationship was as a beloved Son of the Father. This is his identity and the foundation of his authority. It is a childlike authority. Completely dependent on the Father. Rooted in a deep relationship with the Father. He was totally confident in his status as the Son.
If disciples are to act with Jesus’ childlike authority, then their most important relationship is as a beloved son or daughter of the Father. That means they dedicate time in prayer every day to be with their best friend. This is a challenge for everyone, myself included. But is it crucial to develop a childlike authority.
Here are some ways that this kind of authority should be seen in us. First, for the disciple with childlike authority there are no cliques. No special groups that gather to gossip about others. This applies to the pastor and to parishioners. Instead, pastor and parishioners speak about every single person as brothers and sisters.
Second, when I act with childlike authority, I possess impartiality. An impartiality of those who criticize me and those who praise me. What others say does not define me, whether good or bad. What matters is how God judges me. I want to please God alone.
Another way to say this is that childlike authority gives the disciple internal freedom. The disciple who has an identity as a son or daughter of God is free inside. Pope Francis is a good example of this freedom. He doesn’t care what people think. He doesn’t care what bishops or cardinals think. He is not perfect, but he is free. He was free enough to say, “Disciples build bridges not walls.” Why? Because disciples see others as brothers and sisters, as beloved children of their Heavenly Father.
Jesus had childlike authority. Second, he had a servant authority. In Mark 10:45 Jesus responds to disciples arguing about who is the greatest and tells them, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We revere him because he died for us. He did not die for perfect and smart disciples, but for weak, fickle and sinful disciples.
Disciples acting with servant authority serve their enemies. They definitely pray for them, as Jesus commanded. They are generous to people who give nothing back. They serve because Jesus love burns in them, not because of their own initiative. Mother Teresa had authority because she served in this way. People respected her authority because she poured her life out in imitation of Christ’s selfless love.
In addition to childlike authority and servant authority, Jesus acted with healing authority. So often, he manifested his power by healing the broken — blind, crippled, lepers, etc. Sometimes as a Church we have lost sight of his healing authority. At times, we emphasize rules more than healing. Pope Francis is in touch with this expression of Jesus’ authority, so he said, “The Church is a field hospital.”
St. Frances Cabrini is a prime example of acting with Jesus’ healing authority. She came to the United States in 1889 as a 39 year old religious sister to help Italian immigrants who were flooding to our nation in dire poverty. Over the next 25 years she founded 67 institutions of mercy and healing — orphanages, hospitals and schools for poor kids.
The people in a parish ought to see in the clergy the authority of Jesus. They need to see them acting with a childlike authority, as servants who extend healing. But this should also be seen in every parishioner, in every disciple. When the whole parish is alive with the spirit of Jesus’ authority, people are attracted to that faith community. But if they are caught up with gossip, or cliques, or arguing over liturgical decorations, or other peripheral issues, then that parish has lost its way.
Where do you need to focus your growth? Do you need to become more grounded in a childlike authority …… a servant authority ….. or a healing authority? In your prayer, ask the Lord Jesus to give you his Spirit of childlike trust in the Father. Ask for his generosity of service. Pray for his readiness to bring healing to the broken.