Jesus went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.
Jesus was frequently accused of breaking the sabbath. (Even when he was dead he descended on Holy Saturday into the underworld, the Creed says, and liberated all who had languished there since the time of Adam.) I found a passage in St Ambrose (c. 333 AD – 397) that tries to make sense of all this sabbath activity. He wrote, “[Luke] describes the works of divine healing begun on the sabbath day, to show from the outset that the new creation began where the old creation ceased.”
Ambrose also noted that Jesus healed a man (today’s reading) and a woman (tomorrow’s). Just as at the beginning God “created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27; 5:2), Jesus now heals both. “The Lord came to heal both sexes,” he wrote.
Jesus spoke with authority, Luke says. ‘Authority’ is one of those words that can have opposite meanings, depending on their use. Speaking or acting ‘with authority’ can simply mean you have the official piece of paper, you are authorised by someone else. In the time of Jesus, rabbis were forever quoting other rabbis, or quoting texts. Yet the word ‘authority’ comes from the Latin ‘auctor’ (source), from which the word ‘author’ is also derived. People speaking with authority in this sense are speaking from themselves; they are the authors of what they are saying. Jesus “spoke with authority,” that is, he spoke from himself, from his Self. His words came from somewhere (they were not quotations). For that very reason they were able to go somewhere: they were able to cast out demons, freeing people from their torments.
By acting as he did, Ambrose wrote, “Jesus showed us that the Son of God is not under the law but above the law.” It might have been better if he had said Jesus was one with the law, in the sense that he was one with the mind of the law-giver, God. In him the law was being fulfilled, not set aside (Mt 5:18). A law is not necessarily being fulfilled when it is interpreted into thousands of details; it is being fulfilled when its purpose is being realised. The law was being fulfilled in Jesus, despite his apparent breaches of it, in ways that it was not fulfilled in the Pharisees, despite their devotion to it.
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