One summer when I was in college I worked for an independent contractor. I helped him paint houses both inside and out. I mixed cement with a shovel and did stone work. I hauled tons of bark chips for landscaping jobs in the hot sun. I rolled adhesive to prep for “popcorn” ceilings.
I hated every friggin' minute of it.
It's not that I'm particularly lazy by nature or adverse to physical labor (although I kind of am), it was just the agony of having to listen to my boss spout his political and religious opinions with an irritating and intolerant certainty day after day which almost drove me to insanity. One day I asked him why he became an independent contractor, and he told me, “'Cause I don't like to take orders from anybody!”
I got that loud and clear that summer. This guy was the only authority he wanted in his life. He was also one of the biggest, unhappiest, most miserable anal sphincters (metaphorically speaking) that I've ever met. I couldn't wait to quit that job.
Now, in my former boss's defense, I should point out that he was only a few years older than myself—a fellow Baby Boomer. Our generation seemed to have a chronic issue with authority, and the culture of our time told us to question and challenge it whenever we could. I grew up being told that the Vietnam war was justified, that black folks were inherently inferior to white folks, and that some day the real, top secret reason behind the Watergate burglary would come out, and then Mr. Nixon would be vindicated. In an age such as ours, it's hard to know who to trust. One wonders if there's really any such thing as an unimpeachable authority.
In the gospel lesson for the Fourth Sunday in Epiphany (Mark 1:21-28) Jesus is recognized for his authority. He speaks boldly for himself and doesn't rely on the traditions of the elders as the scribes had done. But what really closes the deal for those who encounter him in this story is his ability to drive out the unclean spirit. The evil spirit is silenced by the command of Jesus, and the crowds recognize that they are dealing with the real thing here. Authority is respected for what it is able to do.
To submit to the authority of Christ is to drive the demons of arrogance out of our own hearts. Of course, just as in the Bible lesson, our own unclean spirits don't want to give up without a fight. We really love the idea that our authority--our goals, desires, and opinions of ourselves and everybody else--are the ultimate authority by which everything else is to be evaluated. Giving that notion up is a battle which might actually require an exorcism.
For me, one of the most powerful examples of this is found in the philosophy of the Twelve Step programs. The demons of addiction—and their underlying causes—just can't withstand submission to the authority of God. A powerful tool used by such groups is the witness and support of those who have fought the demons and lived to tell the tale. The experience of individuals who have gone through the agony of addiction gives authority to their testimony.
And what does submission to Christ's authority look like? Those who are submissive pray. They obey the command to worship and be thankful for the myriad blessings which they enjoy every day and probably have taken for granted. They are enjoined to be generous to others and not fearful for their own well-being. They are forgiving, compassionate, and understanding. They are humble. They trust in the promise of eternal life, believing that God is gracious and merciful, and understanding that on our own we contribute nothing to our own salvation. With such an understanding in our hearts, there is simply no room for the demons which plague us.
But first, we have to give our assent to the authority of Christ. We have to submit and be willing to believe that there is an authority greater than our own power and understanding.
I believe in this authority because I have seen its power in my life and in the lives of others. It's not true because the Bible declares it. Nor is it true because the Church teaches it. It's not even true because your momma said so. It's true because it's true.
Thanks again fore dropping in. May God be with you.