Jesus today enters a synagogue, where he teaches “as one having authority and not as the scribes.” Though the gospel reading focuses today on the how people welcomed this, to some it was threatening. For one to speak “as the scribes” was to speak as a scholar – being careful of one’s sources, getting the footnotes right, anxious not to exceed the word of Scripture or of traditional interpretation. To speak as a scribe meant (with no ill intent) to convert God’s living word into a fossil, depriving it of its full meaning and import. To speak with authority, then, was to speak as a self-confident source of interpretation. It was to recognize in God’s word not a dead text to be exhibited with a curator’s care, but a living reality that continued to be expressed in the lives of its hearers. Jesus Christ, himself the pre-existing eternal Word of God, was -- in a synagogue in Capernaum – exercising both his right and his very being in the act of speaking the living word of God to God’s own people.
The reaction was electric. At least some saw Jesus as exhibiting God’s living presence. To this, they were irresistibly attracted. They recognized not just someone who knew the Scriptures backward and forward, but could plumb its depths and return with pearls of wisdom and value.
But for every one who yearned for Christ’s word, there were those who saw it as a threat. To interpret God’s word meant challenging the authority of previous interpreters. It meant finding in God’s word the simple message that might be simplistic -- or wrong. It means dismantling a system of beliefs, rituals and power that has given the community cohesion and meaning, and even its salvation. To be an innovator in this culture was not a value, but dangerous. God himself gave us the Law; he that would reshape it cannot be tolerated.
But Jesus was no mere innovator. As the Incarnate Word, he spoke himself, which gave his utterances the force of authority. As the human Jesus of Nazareth, however he gave himself into the power of his hearers. Whether to heed him or hound him, the Word gave himself into our power.
That choice is still ours to make today.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, you who are the very Word of God, guide us as we listen to your word. May we be more than mere slaves to ancient texts and age-old interpretations, but see these anew by measuring them against the path of love, truth and light that you blazed for us. May our lives be your authoritative word to the world in which we live. May others see your words in the words we speak and your acts in the actions we perform. In your name we pray.