Upon hearing Christ’s teaching, the crowds are mesmerized by Jesus’ words. They are impressed less with His style and more with the authority with which He teaches. Jesus’ teaching and His authority extend far beyond rhetorical skill – His authority is such that He performs exorcisms and creates fear among the demons who recognize Him.
His hearers and the witnesses of these exorcisms compel them to remark that they “have never seen anything like this.” By these exorcisms, Jesus demonstrates that He is far greater than a mere teacher – His actions place a claim on His divinity.
Our Lord does not possess this authority for Himself. Instead, He chooses to impart this authority upon His Apostles and gives them authority to bind and loose sins; to exorcise demons; and to teach and preach in His name. These are all functions of the Catholic Church.
Jesus reminds the Twelve that whoever hears them hears Him. In other words, Jesus explicitly chooses to identify Himself with His Church. He proves His identification with the Church when He asks St. Paul on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” It should be observed that Jesus is not asking Paul why he is persecuting the Church. Instead, Jesus asks Paul why he is persecuting Him.
Clearly, Jesus considers any persecution of the Church to be a persecution of Him. This concept is the antithesis of those who claim to have a relationship with Jesus but reject His Church. They claim, “I am close to Jesus, but I don’t need organized religion.”
Moreover, many people have difficulty accepting authority in general and the authority of the Church in particular. There exists an inner rebellion that fights against authority. Perhaps the reason for this is the confusion of two terms: authoritarian and authoritative.
In The Courage to be Catholic, papal biographer George Weigel parses out the distinction. To be simply authoritarian means the imposition of force or brute power over another. It is a type of willfulness that does not give reasons for decisions or commands and does not allow for input from the entity receiving the command.
By contrast, the Church teaches authoritatively. The bishops, successors of the Apostles, are custodians of the deposit of Faith handed down through the ages. The word “tradition” comes from the Latin “tradere,” which means “to hand on.” The teaching authority of the Church does not rest on the whims of the episcopacy. Instead, the authoritativeness of the Church rests on the authority given to her by Christ Himself and is exercised in service and love, not by coercion.
As Catholics, we should rejoice in the authority of the Church. After all, since our salvation relies on the truths espoused by Christ’s teachings as communicated by the Church, we should want the Church to be authoritative so that our hope in Christ is definitive and secure. Who would want their salvation to rest on anything less than authoritative teaching? Rather than rebel against authoritative teaching, we ought to embrace it as a gift and open our hearts to the Lord Jesus who saves us.