February 1, 2015
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus Opens Us Up
The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority,
and not as the scribes.
In The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968, on Matthew 7:28) Fr. John L. McKenzie says:
The authority of the scribes was based on tradition. The scribe was careful to repeat the traditional teaching and to show that his own commentary rose from the tradition and was in harmony with it. The first part of the sermon [on the mount; Matthew, chapters 5-7] is a deliberate and explicit departure from tradition. Jesus taught not like a scribe but like a prophet, although the word is not used. The Greek word exousia translated “authority” means “authority by commission.” Jesus has a commission from the Father to teach—a commission the scribes do not have. He manifests this commission clearly, and the people are astonished.
Those most like the scribes in modern times are those clergy and laity who base their teaching and preaching almost exclusively on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or on clear and concise doctrinal formulas like it. For all practical purposes, they propose everything in the Catechism, without addition, subtraction or interpretation, as the authentic, binding and even infallible teaching of the Church. The focus, in those who are truly like the “scribes” in the Gospels, is not on these doctrines as mysteries “inviting endless exploration,” or as guidelines for living that will lead us into more and more exciting experiences of enlightenment and love, but just on formulas to profess and preserve, and on the rules that follow from them. This focus on the cut-and-dried, dead letter of doctrines basically removes all relationship with the living Jesus, and makes anyone who speaks with the authority of his Spirit a threat to the security of the status quo. In the Gospels, the scribes are usually linked to the Pharisees and “chief priests,” and they are, almost without exception, presented as enemies of Jesus.
In contrast to the scribes are the prophets—those members of the Church, both clergy and laity, in whom the living Jesus is speaking today with the authority of the Holy Spirit. And just as there is only one Teacher in the Church (Matthew 23:8), so there is only one Prophet, who speaks with, in, and through the living members of his risen body on earth. When Jesus speaks in one of them, “the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). They teach “as one having authority and not as the scribes,” because they teach with the authority of the One whom God promised to “raise up”—the risen Jesus who speaks in his body on earth. “I will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him”—until the end of time.
“He is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”
Pope Francis said, in a Sept. 30, 2013, interview with America Magazine:
If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.
Jesus is the enduring Prophet; the ever-present Prophet; the Prophet who is saying every day, “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Our religion is not the same-old same-old; it is constant interaction with the person of Jesus Prophet, who is constantly showing us what is “good and true and beautiful” on a higher level—and divine. Francis again:
…Human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Scripture scholars and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.
The bottom line? In Jesus we have a prophet who teaches us with authority, and not as the scribes. Make the most of him.
Do you want to let Jesus keep opening you up to new ways of understanding and doing things?
Pray: “Lord, let me hear your voice.”
Practice: Whenever you hear or think about what the Church teaches, listen to what you think Jesus us saying in and through it now.
Discuss: When do you get the most out of someone who is teaching Catholic doctrine?