Authority, What is it Good For?


October 1, 2017

Who among us, would love to sit down with Jesus and ask him some questions? I am sure that we can all think of some questions to ask.

Would they be much different than the question that was asked by the priests and the elders, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Several years ago Dr. Phil was being interviewed on television. One question asked, was “if you could interview anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be?” Dr. Phil replied, without hesitation, “Jesus Christ. I would like to have a conversation with him about the meaning of life.” If he had read today’s gospel, I wonder if Dr. Phil would still want to interview Jesus. For one thing, Jesus would not be a good interview. Time and time again, we read of his encounters in the gospels with those questioning him, and it is always turned back to those doing the questioning. Jesus would quickly turn the tables. Perhaps even literally, as he did in the Temple.

Dr. Phil would be sorry that he even posed this question to Jesus. After being turned upside down and inside out, Jesus would be encouraging him to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and to follow him.

So, who is ready to interview Jesus?

There is clearly a difference in opinion from the chief priests and elders that have shown up in the Temple and what Jesus is teaching to those that are gathered to listen. Those listening to Jesus are eager to learn what he has to say and how that can affect their lives not only in the present, but also in the time to come.

The chief priests and elders are the ones that are accustomed to having the authority. People come to them to answer the questions and to solve the problems that come up in 1st century Jerusalem. The people, for the most part, have been complacent. Yes, you do have the occasional radical teacher that gets up and attempts to stir up trouble.

Jesus is different. The chief priests and the elders sense this, yet do not want to admit it. They know the answers to the questions that they are asking. They just do not want to hear them. They are being called out in front of everyone and this is not what they were expecting. They thought that they could quickly shut Jesus down. However, Jesus is different. His authority does not come from any human entity, and this is what they fear, and to some extent, already know deep in their hearts. They sense the authority that Jesus speaks with and are wondering where that leaves them.

Jesus is turning everything upside down and inside out.

Two thousand years later, we are not much different. We place ourselves in the same situations as the chief priests and elders. We question those areas in our lives that we do not like and when the answer is too hard for us to bear we either ignore it or try to make up excuses for our actions.

We struggle with authority today. Of course there are those that are in positions that naturally have authority assigned to them. Our elected officials are one example of this. In the business world, people are hired or placed into positions of authority as well. While it makes me uncomfortable, I know that pastors even hold a position of authority. In all of these positions, there is a difference between the actual authority that someone has and the authority that is perceived. This perceived authority can flow both ways.

Authority works alongside respect. If the person in authority does little to gain the respect of those that they are called to lead, then there is going to be resistance. We have seen this happen throughout the history of the world as we know it. Sometimes those that resist prevail and at other times those in authority attempt to quickly squash it.

While we are in the midst of remembering the Reformation, it is a good example of resistance. Martin Luther resisted the authority of the sixteenth century and listened to God. The more he studied, the more he began to question the direction of the church. In his words and actions, a reformation had been carried out that we are called to still carry forward today.

Acts of resistance happen to this day as humanity struggles to live into the world that God has given to us. This will continue to be so until we can sit down and talk to one another. To let Jesus guide us and take the words of the gospel seriously, compelling us to live as equals with our sisters and brothers.

Jesus brings an even greater resistance to the Roman Empire in the 1st century. This resistance made people uncomfortable and question everyone that was serving in a position of authority. While the chief priests and elders wished Jesus to have no authority at all, it was not theirs to take away.

In Jesus we find an authority that cannot be taken away by any earthly manner. It is not an authority from humans. It is an authority from God alone. As the questions surface, it is revealed that true authority lies in Jesus, and Jesus alone. It is in this that we encounter a grace which is greater than anything of our own making or doing.

Jesus does not say that the chief priests and elders are going to be left out of the kingdom of God. What he is saying is that they are going to have to wait their turn. In his response, Jesus’ intentions in both his question to the religious leaders of John’s baptism and in his question about which of the two sons did the will of the father, is that the God of Israel who gives him authority is the same God of Israel who welcomes sinners and prostitutes. (FOTW, Year A, Charlotte Dudley Cleghorn)

This is the grace of God that washes over all of us in our baptisms. Our role and position in life is not going to get us anywhere. It does not matter how much authority we have. The love of Christ welcomes all and at times may even surprise us. Our desire should be to walk arm and arm with each other, regardless of race, sex, ability, or sexuality. As we begin to do so in our earthly realm, we bring the kingdom of God just a little closer.

While we would all love to ask Jesus some questions, does it really matter. Where we can truly grow is through listening. Listening to our sisters and brothers that have different experiences to share. Listening to the words of Jesus as we read them in the bible. Listening to the Spirit speaking to us in our lives.

Perhaps, the questions that we should be asking should be directed to ourselves. What is it like to answer a question which you know the correct answer but do not want to hear? What is it like to be asked a question that may call you to change your mind, your way of being and doing? As we allow the Spirit to work with us in answering these questions, we begin to grow. Here we encounter the God that walks alongside us.

Let us pray, embracing God, you enter our lives in the most unexpected ways. We find you in the most difficult questions. May the Spirit continue to push and pull us into the kingdom that you have promised us. May our hearts and minds be open to all that is you. Amen.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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