The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Authority of Jesus rooted in truth, persuasion

Published: February 12, 2021   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Jan. 31.

Today’s Gospel speaks of the authority of Jesus. “The people were spellbound by his teaching because he taught with authority and not like the scribes.” Obviously Jesus did not carry a gun, wield a club or command an army. So what was the nature of his authority? Where did it come from, what was behind it and what can we learn from it for our own lives?

  • The first thing about the authority of Jesus is that it was rooted in truth. He quietly and simply told people the eternal truth about life. There was nothing frantic about it. He did not argue or seek to prove his point. He simply stated his case and let it stand. Truth is like that. It does not need to argue. It can afford to wait. It will eventually prevail because the conscience that God has placed in our hearts recognizes the truth even when we want to deny it. As St. Augustine writes, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you” — meaning in God and God’s truth.

Until the time of Copernicus, people believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around it. His theory that the sun was the center of our solar system was so revolutionary that he was afraid to release it. But when he published his theory, it was soon accepted by all competent scientists. What did it matter that at first he stood virtually alone?

We have no club to hold over the heads of people, and even if we did, we would be unwise to use it.

So it was with Jesus and so it had better be with us, with our nation, our homes and our Church. We must deal with the real issues and keep our minds open to truth. That is the only way anyone has the right to exercise power over the minds and lives of others. A government that lies to its people cannot long endure. Parents who refuse to level with the children will soon forfeit their authority. A religion that is more devoted to self-serving ideas than it is to the truth will, in due time, lose the hearts and minds of the people. All valid authority is rooted in truth.

  • The second thing about the authority of Jesus is that he exercised it through persuasion. He never tried to force his ideas or will on anyone. He let the truth speak for itself. That’s the only way that lasting authority can be exercised. This is not to deny that some degree of coercion is sometimes necessary in a society, in a home or in a school. There are times when a very direct and immediate and decisive sort of control is needed. Some criminals and some children do not respond willingly to persuasion. But over the long haul, the only authority that really works is the authority of a persuasive goodwill.

A government cannot rule forever by force nor by countering the truth with “alternate truths” that everyone knows are really lies. Satan is the prince of lies and those who seek to impose their will through deceit and have knowingly aligned themselves with his destructive force may seem powerful for a time, but it is a temporary illusion and they will not in the end prevail. The same is true in a home and in a school. A limited degree of force is periodically necessary, but that had better not be the primary program. Parents can impose their will and their ideas on their children for a few years. But that must be done in love and with a deep commitment to truth and fairness. Otherwise they may see the day when their children turn their backs on their values and walk away. And when that day comes, there will not be much we can do about it. The only lasting authority people exercise over their children is through persuasion.

And this is also true in the realm of religion. We have no club to hold over the heads of people, and even if we did, we would be unwise to use it. That is why I oppose denying Communion to politicians who personally believe what we believe but are not willing to impose our beliefs on others in matters of public policy. They clearly miss the mark, but we need to use persuasion, not coercion.

If we cannot persuade the world of the truth of our message, we can forget it, because over the long haul we have nothing else with which to win them. That is how Jesus has held his grip on the hearts and minds of people across the centuries. His truth cannot be denied, and his cross and resurrection is proof of the persuasive power of self-sacrificing love.

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