On authority

first_img Share 8 Views   no discussions Sharing is caring! Share LocalNews On authority by: – January 30, 2012center_img Tweet Share Photo credit: steamcrow.com“…Unlike the Scribes, he taught them with authority.” (Mk. 1:21)Authority has no single meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, has three definitions. It is first “the power or right to give orders and enforce obedience.” It is also “a person or organization exerting control in a political or administrative sphere.” Or, it is “the power to influence others, based on recognized knowledge or expertise.”The authority the people recognized in Jesus was not the authority of the first or second, but authority of the third kind, namely, his power to inspire and make them heed what he had to say. A simple way to explore his distinctiveness is to consider authority either as something you’re “in”, or something you “have.” To be “in” authority is to have a regulative position or status through election or appointment. Thus ministers of government are persons “in” authority; so are those who comprise boards of directors in business.Authority also goes hand in hand with certain roles. A parent, for instance, is by definition someone “in” authority; so is a teacher, a judge, a policeman or woman, or a parish priest.A moment’s reflection, however, tells us that to be “in” authority and to “have” authority are not one and the same thing. Many of those “in” authority “have” no authority. Many of those who “have” authority are not “in” authority. And therein lies a dilemma, because in the final analysis, “having” is more important. “In” authority is about system and structure, “having” is about soul.The episode at the heart of the Gospel today concerning the crowd’s comparative evaluation of Jesus and the Scribes illustrates this point very well. The crowd, as the text put it, was captivated by Jesus’ teaching, because he spoke to them as someone with authority, unlike the Scribes.Now the Scribes were among the social and intellectual leaders of the day. They went to the right rabbinic schools, belonged to a respected class, and enjoyed high social standing. Jesus was from Nazareth, a social backwater, from which “nothing good” ever came. And yet the crowd heeded what he had to say, unlike pronouncements from his betters. They were “in” authority, in other words, but he had it.To “have” authority is to possess qualities that influence and inspire. Inspiration is one of those things, besides bread, that humans need in order to live. Without vision, we are told, people perish. While we can individually often give ourselves motivation to do things, it’s very doubtful whether a society can move from a difficult present to an enhanced future without the stimulus of inspiration.Some forty odd years ago Jack Kennedy summoned the American people to a vision of difficulty and boldness, involving the exploration of space. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade,” he said, “and to do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Mandela, on the other hand, has inspired the world to think of the traditionally difficult in a new way: the bitter experiences of history can fruitfully be recalled without bitterness. Examples such as these, however, should not make us equate having authority with being charismatic. It is not just that the more ordinary among us can also display authority. It is that charisma is not the essential or defining feature of the quality. Evil geniuses too have had charisma. Indeed, some of them have had an extraordinary ability to mesmerize. One has only to recall the hypnotic influence Hitler wielded on his highly rational and intelligent subordinates.The authority to inspire is the ability to summon individuals to imagine that they can do bigger things than they think, and become much better than they are. We are often inclined to think of this capacity only in terms of politicians, but this is something any teacher in any primary school can facilitate, which many indeed have done. The foundation is a sense of solidarity with others and the sense of having heard the summons oneself.I do not wish to minimize the power of the political to generate these possibilities in the broader society. Considering the scope politicians enjoy for influencing the lives of citizens, it is certainly a legitimate expectation to hope that along with such power they should display a care for society’s overall enhancement, for the things, as I mentioned earlier, that we need to live by, apart from bread. But the task applies to many others too, in the religious and the other essential social sectors. We need many more persons who can speak, act and conduct themselves with authority, whether or not they may happen to be persons who are in authority.By: Father Henry Charles Phdlast_img

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