AS ONE WHO GROWS AND MAKES GROW, NOT ONE WHO MERELY CROWS AND GLOWS
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
February 1, 2009
Readings: Dt 18:15-20 / 1 Cor 7:32-35 / Mk 1:21-28
Authority under any form or guise all over the world is not the most esteemed fact everywhere in our postmodern times. At best, authority is merely tolerated. At worst, it is looked down on and smirked upon. Royalties, or those trying hard to pass off as royalty are seen as anachronistic features in a world characterized by what some authors call the “compression of time” and the “contraction of space.”
So, what are we doing here today, given the fact that the 1st and the 3rd readings both speak of authority?
We can find a clue to this riddle if only we go right back to the testimony of God’s word. Human authority per se, is hardly acceptable in many cases during our times. But authority, in the mind of God, is something that is not man-made. It is not something self-imposed. It is a gift given, shared, entrusted, and allotted to whomever God so desires. This seems clear from what Moses tells the Israelites: “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him shall you listen.”
Authority comes from God, ultimately, not something we heap on ourselves. God is the supreme authority. He is the “author” of everything that is good, the author of life, the one who has ultimate responsibility over everything that exists. This, we are reminded by words that we used as response to the first reading: “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Since human authority, more often than not, crosses the bounds established by God’s will, we fall into all sorts of anxiety and worries. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” Shakespeare of old warns us. Just look at what so many around us get themselves into. The Philippine political landscape is littered with the skeletons of those who died in exchange for their unquenchable thirst for authority and more! People have died and are still dying trying to protect their turf, trying to extend their clutches on power, prestige, and privilege. Every time elections come around, certain individuals simply are silenced and made to disappear from the scene, through murder, mayhem, and malicious intrigues.
The second reading would have us look at the need for all of us to banish anxiety and worry. And it has to do with shunning every form of attachment to anything worldly and earthly – relationships, material possessions, position – and a whole lot more, all in favor of Him who is the Author of everything that exists. Peace and serenity come only from acknowledging Him alone who is the only valid, licit, and ultimate authority in our lives. “Brothers and sisters, I should like you to be free of anxieties.”
The Gospel, for its part, points to Him whom the Father designates as “one who speaks with authority” - the anointed and chosen One, sent “for the life of the world.” When he entered the synagogue, people got surprised. They were in awe at the sight of one who “taught them as one with authority and not as the scribes.” The Scribes had superficial, shallow, and sallow authority. Coming as it does from human foundations, their authority was no more than skin deep. The way they spoke might sound schooled, but not solidly founded on stable moorings. Their authority was external, not coming from interior and higher level origins and sources. Their authority was human, not divine and the people who heard them knew it. They heard them, but they did not listen to them.
And here is where the important criterion bolts away and sprints away from flimsy foundations. And that criterion is that such authority can only come from outside the person. It can come only from Him who is above all women and men, on Him who is the foundation of the world and all that is in it – on God who speaks with ultimate authority and power that emanates from within Him: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
It might do us good to check up on what is the real meaning of the word authority. It comes from the Latin root word “augere” which is the root word of the English word “to augment,” “to add,” which is, therefore, related to the word “grow.” Authority is one who augments your stature, who makes you grow beyond your ken, beyond your ability, beyond your capacity. Authority is something shared, given, entrusted, and allotted by Someone to somebody else. Authority comes from Him who alone has the power to make us grow. He alone has the power to add years to our lives, to add stature to our basically wounded and sinful nature, who “have fallen short of the glory of God.”
Human authorities fall much shorter than all this. We get disappointed with them. We pinned our hopes in the past on so-called “saviors” only to find out they were just as corrupt or as inept like everybody else. We pinned our hopes for years on someone who put down a dictatorship, only to feel our jaws sag when she recently asked for apologies from someone else whom she helped topple down from his power base. Human authorities, after tasting how good a life it apparently is to hold so much power, prestige, and privilege, hem and haw when asked to step down. They plot and scheme their way through just to add years to their “public service.”
Jesus spoke with authority, and not like the way scribes did. He had an interior, deeper, and more stable power base. And that power base is no less than God, the Father, who is the ultimate source of all authority. We may be able to add years to our life, but it is God and God alone who can add life to our years.
It might be us humans who plant and sow the seeds, but it is only God who makes them grow. Only God can augment our stature. Only God can credibly stand behind our claims and pretensions to whatever titles and abilities we have. Monikers like “honorable” and “distinguished senators” and “distinguished congressmen” which all those in power love to lavish on themselves, are ultimately only skin deep. “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do their builders labor.”
We are surrounded by usurpers and pretenders to the throne many days of our lives. Authority comes cheap. All you need is a few billions of pesos to clinch it (if one speaks of being President in the Philippines). But there are pretenders, and there are real authorities that need to be listened to. They are like Christ, who speaks as one with authority. They GROW and makes others grow. They are not just noisy people “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” who only do nothing more than crow and glow … and bark orders that everybody hears, but nobody listens to.