The witnesses were amazed, and they should have been. It was indeed a new teaching, and new way of being. Who else spoke demons mute or people into being? God did. And know, those who witnessed this healing, including we who hear it today, have to contend with this knowledge about who Jesus is. The Holy One, not just of God, but God.
Authority is a hard thing to grasp, as is the obedience that comes from understanding authority and who has it. As baptized disciples of Jesus, the indwelling Holy Spirit that is in each of us gives each of us a measure of authority. But what does that mean?
Many as we know, misuse their authority to “Lord it over others”, as Jesus would say. And while Jesus certainly wasn’t afraid to use his authority to cast out demons, he did not use his authority for his own gain; in fact, I would say he did just the opposite. When the empire decided it was time for him to die, he let them have the power they believed they had so that God’s power could be shown to overcome death in his resurrection.
Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth also speaks of authority. What Paul is saying here I think is that ultimately, God, the one True God in the Trinity, is the ultimate source of authority. Anything else that you or I might try to see as authority is really idolatry. Idols for us can be all manner of things. We see it all around us as people put their trust in human figures, in wealth, in substances; when we are living our life as disciples of Jesus, we know that putting our faith and our trust in anything other than God is foolishness on the best day, and downright evil on the worst.
When I think of the story of the man possessed by the unclean spirit in our gospel today, I wonder how he got to that place, and I wonder what that looks like today. We tend to not think in those terms, but I still think the story has something to say to us. When we place our faith in people or things other than God that’s when we get into trouble. The man who was taken over by the spirit was unrecognizable to those around him. The spirit took over his very being. Isn’t that what happens to us when we allow ourselves to be taken over by greed, or earthy power, or addiction or other idols? Don’t we have the potential to not truly be who we were created to be?
Who we are created to be, is God’s own beloved. As those who are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been given a bit of authority that we are to use for Jesus’ work in the world. I think that work looks like restoration. We are to restore this world into what our Presiding Bishop calls God’s dream. We are to help restore people to who THEY were created to be; and that might mean getting rid of some of the idols and spirits in our lives as well as theirs. Jesus has brought the kingdom of God to earth, and it is ours to continue growing and tending. There is much out there in our lives that claims to have true authority – political parties, wealth, security, social status, even the color of one’s skin. In the kingdom of God, none of that has authority. Those are the idols that we sacrifice God’s kingdom to. May our words and deeds help us to dispel those idols so that all of God’s people can live as citizens of the kingdom rather than as members of the empire. May our authority, given to us by Jesus be used to give life rather than be used to strengthen the hold our idols have over us. May we be recognized for who we truly are; beloved by God, who gave his life in order that we might live.