This is as much a shot at the scribes as it is an affirmation of Jesus.
What is authority and how is it different from power?
In my first pastorate I quickly learned the difference. Apart from the content of my sermons and Bible studies, how I counseled people, and the shape of wedding and funerals, I had little official power in that Baptist church. I worked from accumulated influence, which was the product of earned authority.The word used for authority (ἐξουσία) in this Markan passage often indicates the ability to do something to the extent there are no hindrances. Power (δύναμις), on the other hand, is typically used where one has the intrinsic ability to proceed regardless of any hindrances (TDNT, v. 2, pp. 562ff).
In the New Testament, authority can be used to denote the prerogative to make decisions, connoting the freedom to choose. It is based upon privilege delegated by God; it is given and not grasped.Jesus at times demonstrated raw power, the intrinsic ability to proceed with or without cooperation. In the present passage, however, something else is at work.
The listeners in this Markan passage see something in Jesus that is different from what they see in the scribes. The scribes could only exegete and interpret what had already been given through the prophets. Jesus, on the other hand, brings to the table something new and creative and not just a rehashing of what the people had always known.The fresh and unprecedented way Jesus moved among the people and the choices he made lent to his words authority, which resulted in a level of influence the scribes could not attain through formal power and position.
Authority in the early church followed this pattern set by Jesus. The person in authority led not by force but by a recognition that the leader’s directives were just and honorable. Authority distinguishes itself from naked power by its ability to produce acceptable answers to questions (Meeks, The First Urban Christians, pp. 122 &137).The crowd saw authority in Jesus because his answers were simply better than those of the scribes. Authoritarian religious leaders turn to power as the last refuge of those who have run out of compelling, timely answers.
Church leaders, both ordained and lay, are tempted to resort to raw power when they feel they are not going to get their way. Leaders can feel that they are going to lose something they value, such as position, control, or what is comfortable and familiar.
In this move to power, we violate the example of Jesus and his teachings about leadership:
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:24-27).Much of the apparent power I had as a pastor was really influence disguised as power.
Christ’s church is to be led by people who have earned influence through the way they move among people, demonstrating humility and a commitment to serving Jesus. Church leaders are to be as “one who serves.”Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State