A baby-boomer Lutheran pastor shares his thoughts on spirituality, ethics, and hanging on in this really funky planet.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
By What Authority? (Reflections on Pentecost 17, Year A)
"By what authority are you doing these
things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew
Fake news. For my money, this is one of
the most insidious expressions of our time. We already have COVID-19, but do we
really need a second pandemic? A pandemic of lies, social media propaganda,
gossip, disinformation, and an a concentrated effort by some to urinate in the
swimming pool of public information and cause us all to question what to
believe and who to trust? Are climate change and the coronavirus real, or did
“science” get it wrong? Is there expertise or only opinion? Who can speak with
In the Gospel lesson appointed for
Pentecost 17 Year A in the RCL (Matthew 21: 23-32), the official “authorities”
are questioning the legitimacy of Jesus’ authority. This story comes right on
the heels of the Palm Sunday story. Jesus has ridden his donkey into Jerusalem,
boldly accused the leaders of the people of ripping off the poor, and has set
up shop and begun to teach right in the holy temple itself. You can imagine how
p.o.’edthis has made the priests and
the elders. They demand to know by what authority Jesus can do and say these
This doesn’t upset Jesus. He asks them a
sneaky question of his own about authority. Where did the authority of John the
Baptist come from? The priests and elders can’t answer this question. If they
admit that John was a prophet sent by God, they’ll reveal their own hypocrisy
by their refusal to repent when he called for repentance, compassion and equity[i]. If they denounce John,
they’ll anger the crowds and reveal that they don’t really represent the people
at all. All they really care about is their own prestige and power. So..? They
give a mealy-mouthed, non-committal answer which gives Jesus the opportunity to
tell a little parable which says, in effect, actions speak louder than words.
These guys may have all the “correct” doctrine, but what they have done has
ultimately been self-serving and oppressive.
What gives Jesus authority? It’s not just
his words but his deeds. Yes, he’s taught powerful lessons, but the people have
also seen the sick healed, the children blessed, the outsiders welcomed, and
the sinners given a second chance. They have seen the hungry fed. They have
seen the righteous sit at table with the outcasts, and they will soon see the
Son of God hang on the cross.
Have you ever asked yourself why you are a
Christian? I’d be willing to bet it’s because someone with Christ’s authority
represented the Gospel to you. Maybe it was your mom or your grandmother or
some other relative, but somewhere along the line you met a person whose walk with
God in kindness, gentleness, and heroic faith was all the authority you needed.
Righteousness is its own authority. So is love. So is compassion.
If you’ve believed in this authority,
you’re also called to be this
authority. We are all called to go to work in the vineyard, to be faithful and
generous and kind and forgiving and non-judgmental and honest so that faith may
be restored. We are called to care for one another so that others may believe.
We are called to be restorers of confidence.
May the peace of God which passes our
understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.