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Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum. One of the things that he comes to do is to teach, for at the root of our troubles and our suffering is a powerful clouding of the mind. What is it like to be in the same room with Jesus? The people “were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority.” 

“Astonished” is a pretty strong word. But we have to understand the tenor of the time. When a Jewish rabbi would speak, he would reference his teacher—another rabbi—who in turn had learned from another rabbi, and he by another, and so on. Finally, appeal would be made, implicitly or otherwise, to Moses, who had received the word and Commandments of God on Mt. Sinai.

What makes Jesus’ teaching so striking—apart from the content, which is striking enough—is his manner of teaching. He doesn’t appeal to “Rabbi so and so” and finally back to Moses. He teaches on his own authority. The Greek word here (exousia) is instructive, meaning “from his own being.” He moves through his public life, Chesterton said, like a lightning bolt.