What Does It Mean to Preach With Authority? A Consideration of the Concluding Line of the Sermon on the Mount

blog-062515On Thursday in daily Mass we finished reading the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 7-9). In it, there is a line describing the reaction of the crowd that day on the slopes of the Mount of Beatitudes:

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28-29).

What does it mean that Jesus spoke “with authority”? The Greek word translated here as “authority” is ἐξουσίαν (exousian), which means “to (speak) out of one’s being or substance.”

In other words, one who has authority is one speaks of what he knows by experience. He is not merely repeating what others have said, nor is he simply quoting slogans or common sayings. He speaks from his own substance, from his own experience.

Jesus is distinguished from the scribes, who were famous for quoting only one another or other reputable, safe sources. In and of itself, this is good. But if it merely stops there, then what makes preaching any different from just staying at home and reading a book?

Too many Christians, including Catholic preachers, are content to live and preach by quoting others rather than teaching by and from experience. Too many are content to repeat what others have said rather than speaking out of what they personally know, have seen, and have experienced.

To preach with authority (exousia) means to be able to proclaim the Word of God with personal knowledge and experience. It means being able to say, “What the Lord and the Church have always proclaimed, I know personally. For I have tested and experienced the Word of God in the laboratory of my own life, and found it to be true. And now I speak to you, not merely of what others have said, but what I know and experience to be true. Out of the substance of my own being (exousia) I announce this truth to you.”

This is what it means to preach with authority (exousia).  Jesus did not simply quote what others said. He said what He personally knew.

What about you and me? Are you able to speak with authority? Well, do you know what the Lord is doing in your life? Have you personally experienced the truth of what the Scriptures and the Church have always announced? Or are you just quoting slogans, passages, and what others have said?

Of course the Scriptures and the authoritative teachings of the Church are the essential foundation of what we know. Please don’t go out and invent your own religion! But do you personally know that the Faith is true? How? Do you speak to your children of what you know or do you merely say, “The Church says … “?  Clearly you are to say what the Church says, but to teach with authority means that you know and have experienced that what the Church says is true, and that you can personally attest to it. This is the basis of preaching and teaching with authority.

Pray especially for preachers, teachers, and parents, that we may find the Gospel and the Lord in our own lives, that we may connect the dots and preach with the authority that comes from the lived and substantial experience of these in our lives.

Exousia! Authority!

2 Replies to “What Does It Mean to Preach With Authority? A Consideration of the Concluding Line of the Sermon on the Mount”

  1. Thanks for sharing the translation of ‘exousian’. Of course, when Jesus spoke from his substance He was speaking from the Substance of God, which is somewhat beyond, ok infinitely beyond, all of us. Even preaching inspired by the Holy Spirit must have an admixture of the human sinfulness of the preacher and maybe also of the congregation he is preaching to.–and maybe it needs that. The sermons that I like best, though that doesn’t necessitate that they have the most benefit for me, are the ones that have the teaching along with the reason for the teaching.

  2. OT, but I LOVE the new site, Fr. What I like too is that I can read the whole article in my feedly RSS reader, than come here to see other comments. Before, it was only showing a paragraph.

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