In the course of his ministry Jesus asks an important question, “Who do people say that I am?” It is important both for the response that is given (ultimately by Peter) but also for Jesus himself asking the question. Jesus does not ask, “What are people saying about my teachings?” He does not ask, “How do you think people are responding to my message?” He asks, “Who do people say that I am?”
Elsewhere in the gospel Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Fr. Robert Barron in his Catholicism series makes an important observation. Among all the founders of the world’s great religions Jesus’ claim is unique. Buddha says, “I have found a way.” The Prophet Muhammad says, “I have received a revelation.” On Mount Sinai Moses receives the Commandments. All the founders point to a greater truth beyond themselves. Jesus alone points to his very self. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” This one claim sets Jesus apart from all the rest and it demands of us a radical decision. Either Jesus is who he claims to be or he is not.
In today’s gospel (Mk. 1:21-28) there are two groups that encounter and witness this unique authority of Christ. The first are the people gathered in the synagogue, “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” The second “group” is the unclean spirit, “What have you to do us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” These immediate reactions – the astonishment of the people, the fear of the unclean spirit – testify to the unique authority of Christ.
It is helpful to remember that the word “authority” has its roots in a Latin word meaning, “to make grow.” From this we can realize that one of the marks of true authority is that it is not in competition with others. True authority does not need to suppress the other for its own sake and purposes. This type of non-competitive authority can only come from Christ who is not just one other being among other beings but rather being itself. “I am…”, says Jesus.
There is a misunderstanding quite common in our day that leads to viewing God as opposed to my freedom. This misunderstanding is that God is seen as the biggest, most powerful, most omniscient being of all. This is not the case. Get rid of all those categories and thoughts! God is not “a being” among other beings, God is being itself and therefore God is not opposed to my freedom but rather God is the very foundation and source of true freedom.
This unique authority of Christ which is non-competitive, which does not need to suppress the other, which by its very nature and presence calls forth life (knowledge and deep insight for those people gathered in the synagogue, healing and freedom for the man imprisoned by the unclean spirit) witnesses to the unique reality of Christ – “I am the way, the truth and the life.” – and it demands of us a radical choice.