We know that Jesus did many things in the course of his ministry that astonished people. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, turned water into wine, and even raised Lazarus from the dead. It's no wonder that people were drawn to him since he performed such works of wonder. Were they interested in his special powers or the message behind those powers?

In today's Gospel reading, people are astonished about something else about Jesus. He enters a synagogue and begins to teach the congregation. "The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes." The people get a look behind the mighty works and grow even more amazed by what they find.

I find myself wondering, what could be so astonishing about the way someone teaches? I've had some wonderful teachers in the course of my education, from high school through college and graduate school. But I can't remember ever being "astonished" by their teaching.

Something stood out to people when Jesus commented on the Scriptures. Perhaps he penetrated the stories and took them from the realm of speculation to the realm of truth in a way that people knew and understood immediately without necessarily having to analyze it at all.

Maybe if we spent more time in direct contact with Jesus and his teachings, we too would find a teaching and a person behind it all that astonishes and amazes us to the point where we can do nothing else but follow Jesus.

I have had that experience. When I read a quote, or hear a song that immediately touches me and moves me, it does so because I feel its truth without needing any further explanation. And I've had many experiences like that reading the New Testament, especially the teachings of Jesus.

People were obviously blown away by Jesus' teaching; it was definitely something different than what they normally received: "He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes." The sense of authority may have come from his insight into the core truth of the Jewish faith --- beyond the rituals and traditions that can conceal or distract from foundational truth of God's unconditional love for all of us.

We could certainly use this kind of authority in our communities and our lives today. The public conversation about the Christian faith seems far removed from the love, compassion and joy of Jesus Christ. We are too often focused, and I would say distracted, by "non-core" issues of social and political policies, protecting a culture we crave rather than embracing the experience of the presence of God.

Maybe if we spent more time in direct contact with Jesus and his teachings --- reading and reflecting on the New Testament, deepening our prayer life, engaging in the sacraments in a fresh way --- we too would find a teaching and a person behind it all that astonishes and amazes us to the point where we can do nothing else but follow Jesus in the hopes of finding more love, more compassion, more joy.

Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]