The Secret of Authority

Authority has become a dirty word.  Anyone with authority is either lording it over the weak and innocent or answering for it’s neglectful misuse.  In America we question authority.  We usually don’t like authority, and often dislike those who have it over us.

The problem is… we don’t understand what authority is.

All authority comes from God.  Why?  Because in the end, any human being who legitimately has authority over another human being has to answer to God for how they used it.  No one would have any legitimate authority unless God allowed it.

Authority comes from the Latin auctoritas, or auctor, which means “originator”. It is also where we get the word “author”.  And the first “originator”, the “author” of all that is good, is the also the originator and author of authority.

Jesus acknowledged Pilate’s authority, but only because God had given it to him.

He entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11* Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:9-11

Jesus acknowledged that His own authority also came from God the Father.

“For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak”  John 12:49.

OK, so authority comes from God… but what is the secret to exercising authority?

The secret to authority is love.  

When God gives authority, He commands it be used with love.  To be properly used, authority MUST be used with love. To understand this better, we need to see how love flips the popular idea of authority on it’s head.

God gives authority as a means to serve others, not as a means to be served.  In order to serve authority must be used in conjunction with love. If not, it’s tyranny.

Father’s have authority to take care of their children.  A police officer has authority to protect the innocent.  A governor has authority to execute the laws of the state to safeguard the welfare of the citizens.  These are all forms of service.

Let’s say police officer tells people to stand back from a dangerous situation in a public street. He has authority to do this not because he’s better or smarter or earned some right to be bossy at the police academy. He has authority to serve those people by keeping them out of harms way.

Even though Jesus acknowledged His authority came from His Father, the authority was also His authority, as He is God the Son, equal to the Father.  The crowds were amazed because Jesus taught like one who HAD authority.

“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes”  Matthew 7:28-29.

Other rabbis would quote another great rabbi, like the one who taught them, but Jesus would say, “Truly, I say to you…” taking all the authority upon Himself.  

As well, Jesus demonstrated His authority by deeds…

And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out‘” Luke 4:36.

Now, Jesus did everything with love, including using His authority,  One individual, a centurion, had been watching Jesus.  As a soldier, he understood authority and recognized that Jesus had great authority, and also great love.

“As he entered Caperna-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.”  And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”  But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.  I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,  while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”  And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment”  Matthew 8:5-13.

Interesting that Jesus acknowledged this man for his great faith after he demonstrated his understanding for Jesus’ authority.  And this man was blessed with his words being repeated everyday at Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Jesus gave His authority to the 12 Apostles, the first pope and bishops of the Church.

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” Matthew 10:1-4.

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He gave His Apostles His authority once again and instructed them to teach, with His Authority, and baptize, indeed to dispense all the sacraments, until the end of time.

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age‘” Matthew 28:18-20.

When the Church teaches, she does so with the authority of God.  When the Church baptizes, confirms, forgives sins, exorcises demons and gives us the Eucharist, she does so with the Authority of God… and with love.

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