(1/31) Deuteronomy 18:15-20 • Psalm 111 • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 • Mark 1:21-28
Sometimes life hands us a gift. Today, I'm grateful for the gospel of Mark. Of all years, 2021 is a time for brevity and clarity. In Mark – the shortest of the gospels – the author has packed a lot of material with a straightforward style. For any of us worn out with the pandemic and all it has brought, reading Mark is a quick breath of fresh air.
In this week's reading, Jesus has stopped in one of his favorite towns – Capernaum. It's the sabbath and he's teaching at the local synagogue, when someone starts yelling crazy stuff. Mark calls him a man with an 'unclean spirit.' Today we might describe it as someone having a psychotic break. Although we in the 21st century have some fancy words for the symptoms, we still have a lot to learn about emotional health: what is happening within and between people. In my limited experience, a person in an active psychosis can be influenced – sometimes – by the reactions of those around him. Generally, a person lacking solid self is open or vulnerable to outside influences. Regardless of how one thinks about it, the story is clear on the main points. Jesus is standing there, preaching, when up pops this screaming man. Jesus is right there, telling the unclean spirit to leave the man alone. And it does.
The crowd was astonished. They went away talking about what they had heard and seen that day, and how they were accomplished with authority. Not surprisingly, authority is a word we don't use much these days. Today, thoughtfulness joined with competent action is in rare supply. It's easy to join the crowd walking away from this event, shaking our heads in wonder at such a feat and leaving it there.
The purpose of the story, though, is the opposite. Each of us, I believe, is invited to grow up: to become a person with authority. When a person can both articulate principles and calmly act on them, that's authority: nothing more and nothing less.
Once we had a carpenter working on a difficult, worrisome problem in an old house we owned for some years. He asked me some 'diagnostic' questions and spent some time looking it over, even taking up some flooring and a plaster wall to see it better. In the end, he described the problem, the options, and the limits of what he was able to figure out. It was a very matter-of-fact conversation. When he was through with the work, the problem was managed. It was not perfect, but I never worried about it again.
This is the power of authority. It is reality-based: without any hint of pressure on others to agree. True authority comes with an awareness of one's own principles and thinking, along with a capacity to act on them. The other person – and any of us can become the man with the unclean spirit, given the circumstances – is left somehow calmer and freer.
It is the unassuming nature of true authority that makes it so freeing for others. In human affairs, when people can consider the views of various, diverse 'authorities' and find the best path forward, that's cooperation at its finest. A unified approach to a problem begins with an open atmosphere and willingness to consider multiple perspectives and wisdoms, as it were.
In a world desperate for mature behavior, cultivating one's own authority matters. Paradoxically, one must first get clear about what one does not know. Authority has everything to do with authenticity and humility. When the crowds went home amazed that day, it was because they had seen something genuine. The crowd knew the real thing when they saw it. Do we?
Morning: How do I define true authority? Where can I develop my own?
Evening: Where did I notice someone with true authority today?
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.