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Friends, today’s Gospel reports that Jesus came to Capernaum, entered the synagogue on a sabbath, and began to teach. So far, so ordinary. Any bar-mitzvahed adult had the privilege of speaking in synagogue and commenting on the Scripture.

But then it says that the people “were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority.” Once again, we’d probably pass over this rather quickly, but it meant the world to a first-century Jew. The ordinary teachers would have appealed to their own teachers and authorities, and finally to Moses and the Torah, which were unassailable.

The Sermon on the Mount gives a wonderful example of Jesus’ authoritative teaching. He appears as the new Moses. Like Moses, he goes up on a mountain, and like Moses, he brings down a kind of new law. But here the comparisons get strained, for Jesus does something that even Moses could never do: he claims authority over the Torah itself. “You have heard it said . . . but I say.” 

What he means is that they have heard it said in the Torah! And this was the authority beyond which there was no appeal. That’s why the people “were astonished at his teaching.”