By Who's Authority
Updated: Oct 13
Sunday, September 25, Proper 21, Year A, Track 2, Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25:1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
Oh, the trap that was set for Jesus. He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. It seems that no matter what he says he will be either seen as a fool or prosecuted for blasphemy. Who gives you the authority to do this work? Who gives you the right to do what you are doing, asks the religious leaders. The Chief Priest, the “authorities” surely didn’t. They are the ones questioning Jesus. If he tells the truth and says his authority came from God, Jesus will be tried and executed as a blasphemer. (But that bit comes later in the story.) If he obscures the truth by declaring he was born with the authority, he will be laughed at and ridiculed. Either way, the religious leader get what they want; the end of Jesus. Knowing this Jesus escapes the trap by posing a question to them.
We find that those in power don’t want the truth. They are afraid of the truth. It is out of fear that they refuse to answer the question, where John the Baptist’s authority came from. So they won’t answer and continue to tow the party line.
We are little different. We also ask the question, “Who gave you the authority?” And sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth either. We ask: Who gave you the authority to say whether the Coronavirus is real or not? Who has the authority to tell us how we can best prevent it? If what we hear doesn’t fit our beliefs we question the authority of the source. If someone protests quietly one the sideline we examine their authority. If others protest in a group, the same question is raised. If people repeatedly try to get our attention in ways that we don’t like or find uncomfortable; I wonder if we may be like the chief priests who don’t want to recognize the truth.
Let’s face it, COVID has brought out the worst in many people. Many have become judgmental over politics and just about everything seems to have become political; from the Post Office to the wearing masks; judgments are made. And if we don’t want to hear the truth how can we judge the truth?
I think it is because of our hubris or pride that we do not want to face the truth. Much like it is out of hubris and conceit that the chief priests believe that they can easily make a fool of Jesus. And it is out of Hubris that they get so upset with his parable. Hubris is exactly why Paul is admonishing the church of Philippi. The author Amy-Jill Levine, says that this passage from Philippians “portrays the preexistent Christ as graciously laying aside his extraordinary position of equality with God, emptying himself by incarnation – taking on the form of a servant. For this humility, God exalted Christ by giving him the divine name.”[i] Christ set aside any power and prestige and became a servant to others. Lowering himself, becoming lower than many he served.
Relinquishing our selfish ambition and conceit is not easy. And it’s even harder to regard others as better than ourselves. This is what Christ did…for us! This is what Paul says we are called to do for each other. Just think for a moment. When was the last time you thought of yourself as less than the hateful persons you see on the news? Or thought of yourself to be less than the staunch supporter of your political opponent. And I wonder if we are unable to lower our selves because we are unable to have compassion and empathy for this neighbor. Lowering our selves is not to diminish ourselves but to understand that they are a valid, loved child of God. The same understanding Christ has for us.
If we are unable to have empathy for others, I wonder if it is because we haven’t relinquished our power and authority to God. If we are trying to put our judgment above his. And if this is so, are we not also posing the same question to Jesus, “By what authority do you ask me to change? Or to see things in a different light?”
We may begin to see the truth when we can applaud and denounce our opponent as loudly as we do our ally. It is when we recognize and hold ourselves accountable with the same vigor as we do with our opponents; that we will be able to find the truth in our politics and in our lives. Christ doesn’t ask us to be silent about the truth. He doesn’t ask us to take sides. Quite the opposite; we are called to uphold the truth; to point out iniquity whether it is in our politics, in the Church, or close to home.
Even though we are far from Paul’s utopia in which are “in full accorded and of one mind,” all hope is not lost, because Christ did come, and give his life as an offering for us. Through his resurrection, we are given the opportunity to make changes, to repent, to start afresh with clean hearts. Or as Paul says, “To work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” As Christians, we do know the truth. That through our faithfulness in Christ and lowering our selves so we can accept his truths, God will remember us according to his love and not for our transgressions.
[i] The Jewish Annotated New Testament.
Image: Parable of the Two Sons, 2013, by Mironov, Andreĭ (Andreĭ Nikolaevich), 1975-
Proper 21, Year A, Track 2, Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved September 24, 2020]. Original source Wikimedia