By what authority?

September 18, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 20:1-8.

One day as he was teaching the people in the temple area and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and scribes, together with the elders, approached him and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Or who is the one who gave you this authority?” He said to them in reply, “I shall ask you a question. Tell me, was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ then all the people will stone us, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So the answered that they did not know from where it came. Then Jesus said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

The crowd of disciples had hailed him upon his entry into Jerusalem. I can imagine that they again were crowded around him to hear his every word. Many of them ostensibly had made their way into the desert and to the River Jordan to listen to John's teachings and to be baptized. These were people who were hungry for the word of God, who desired to do God's will. Apparently, their spiritual longings were not being satisfied in the synagogues or the temple or by the rabbis. To them John and Jesus were God's prophets, God's voices.

The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders on the other hand had rejected John and certainly did not embrace Jesus. They were focused on the promulgation of laws and regulations, of making God into their image, using Him as their instrument to accomplish their own wills, their own self-interest in promoting and protecting their status and power and control. Many people were ready for something more, some way to draw closer to their God instead of being separated. They sensed God's spirit in John and Jesus and were drawn like magnets. That's why the religious authorities were afraid of being stoned by the people if they denied that the spirit of God was upon John and Jesus.

Jesus had no intention of establishing a new church. He recognized the pitfalls of institutions governed by men for their own purposes instead of God's. He came to liberate his fellow Jews. He came to proclaim the good news that God loved each of them like an only child always and no matter what. He yearned to be close to them. He gave them His commandments to help them live in harmony with one another and to rest secure in His loving care. And when they fell down as they repeatedly would, he was ready to forgive and embrace them anew. Nothing else really mattered.

We are the church, the body of Christ. On our best days our spirits yearn to be one with him and to show it by loving and serving one another. Our leaders are called to embody and express that spirit, to guide us on our journey to reunion with God. When they judge, establish laws and regulations that separate us from God, compel and enforce compliance, they are like the religious authorities that confronted and combatted Jesus. He always outwitted them, though, by questioning their motives. It reminds me of the quote attributed to Gandhi, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." By what authority the chief priests wanted to know of Jesus. He didn't tell them, but you and I know that his authority was given by His Father because Jesus was faithful to His will, not to his own.

I question motives all the time — my own and others. If it seems to be in accord with God's will, then I trust it. If not, I know that I am sinning or about to sin. That's the way I bring my sins or my propensity for sin into consciousness. Then, I'm faced with the decision to obey His will or not, to bind myself or to separate myself from Him. I can't get by with saying, "I don't know" as the chief priests, scribes, and elders did. Jesus won't let me.



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