Here’s the thing: I’m stuck on this question the high priests asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things…?” I’ve tried not to focus on it because the texts this week are full of other images and ideas that would be so much more fun to explore. Yet, no matter which direction I head in, I am confronted with this authority question.
When the high priests asked Jesus about his authority to do what he was doing, I think they asked out of fear and anxiety rather than any real need for Jesus to answer. Well, that, and they really wanted to be able to charge him with blasphemy. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be standing with priests whose own power and position were threatened by Jesus, but I don’t really know. Jesus was doing some pretty spectacular things – healing the sick, curing the lame, breaking religious law. It would be scary to observe, especially if you were unable to see that Jesus was acting with divine authority. Even if you did recognize God in Jesus, it would still be frightening to witness his actions. The priests were pretty certain they knew who God was and how God acted in the world. Then along comes Jesus and turns everything they’d been taught upside down. I don’t know, but I can see how it would be possible to be blinded by fear and anxiety and really want to keep things the same.
However, the priests’ motivation for asking the question isn’t where the crux of the matter is for me. It’s the question of authority, more specifically, divine authority. Those of us who make up the Body of Christ, the Church, need to take this question seriously. We claim the power and presence of Christ. We assume that God has given us the authority to act in Christ’s place, on Christ’s behalf. That’s a big deal and we don’t pay enough attention to it.
Several years ago I took a youth ministry class with Kenda Creasy Dean. At one point she said, “If you call yourself a Christian, then you are the closest thing to Jesus Christ anyone will encounter.” This has stuck with me. It’s a pretty intense way to think about whose authority we carry in this world. I wish we would all think about it more. Not necessarly for the good works we do, but for the works we leave undone.
Think about it this way: By whose authority do we walk by the homeless person on the corner? By whose authority do we turn away from those who suffer without proper healthcare or mental health care? By whose authority do we exclude LGBT people? By whose authority do we ignore or condone violence? By whose authority do we pretend racial injustice doesn’t exist? By whose authority do we continue to overlook the pain of our neighbors?
On the other hand, I would bet that it’s been a really long time since anyone has been so discomforted by a congregation standing for justice that he or she has asked, “By what authority do you do these things?”
It all comes down to the authority we have been given and what we do with it. Are we, the people of God, moving closer to the Promised Land or are we stuck in the desert moaning and groaning about what used to be? Are we working for justice or being content with what we have in our little corner of the world? Are we loving our neighbors as well as ourselves or harboring anger and hatred? Are we doing what Christ would have us do or taking a more comfortable route?
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…
RCL – Year A – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 28, 2014
Exodus 17:1-7 with Psalm 78:1-4,
12-16 orEzekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 with Psalm 25:1-9