Let’s face it, we humans have a problem with authority, especially we Americans. We don’t like. We don’t trust it. And we are suspicious of it’s motives. We want our freedom. The battle cry of our revolution that started this country was “Give me liberty or give me death!” Pretty radical, but at the heart of our nation’s founding.
We can debate the merits of our revolution all we want, but one thing is always clear: While we are suspicious of authority, we also need it. In fact, I’ll make another claim: All religious disputes boil down to authority. Whose authority do you recognize? Where is your basis of authority? Some will answer “The Holy Scriptures!” But those scriptures must be interpreted? Who do you trust to do that? Some will answer “The Church is my authority?” And the response is “which church?” We live in a nation of tens of thousands of denominations all clamoring for your devotion? Which one? And the really spiritual among us will answer “God is my authority!” Ah, yes, that stops the discussion in it’s tracks, but one wonders how do you define “God” and on what basis do you discern God’s direction for your life? Are you a “Lone Ranger” Christian following the dictates of your own heart? If so, then God may not be your authority; it may be your own emotions leading your life.
This question of authority is a sticky one, but not one where we are left to our own devices. There is an answer, but like most significant answers in life, it isn’t easy. And that’s a good thing, because an easy answer short circuits the real benefits of this struggle: the spiritual maturity that results from the hard work of pressing this out in our everyday lives!
The religious leaders of Jesus day confronted the realities of this sticky question in today’s Gospel Lesson and the Lord Jesus gave us a peek into the path through this life long struggle with authority.
Look at Luke 20: 1-8: At that time, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to Him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question; now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know whence it was. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Jesus confronts the religious leaders with one of their chiefest deficits; they didn’t understand true authority. And the Lord reveals this weakness in a stark and inescapable way as He confronts these leaders with their spiritual poverty. He leaves them unsatisfied by His answer precisely because they were in no mind to actually comprehend His answer. They were operating with a false sense of authority! They thought they were the authority in the land, but the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe was standing right in front of them and their blindness of heart kept them from seeing the Ultimate Authority was right there. But that is the nature of blindness to hide the obvious from us.
The proper view of authority lies in communion, specifically the revelation of the Trinity where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit operate and in whose image we are created. Proper authority can never be embraced or lived out alone. The hard work of authority always is best seen, lived out, and protected in the multitude of mutually loving voices of the People of God, and not just the ones who are alive today, but all the People of God through the centuries. It is the power of our communal memory and sense of fidelity to the PEOPLE who came before us that border and create a safe space for us to exercise proper Christian authority in our present day.
Today, the best question to determine your attitude about authority isn’t “what do you believe?” because that question already presupposes the wrong attitude toward authority. The best question to struggle with is “Whith whom are you in communion?” That question best determines the healthiest view of authority in your life. I am the parish priest of a group of people in Cumming, GA. We operate our lives together in the communion of love that exists between us. Where that love is strong we are strong, where that love is deficient, we are weak. We also have a bishop and the same rule applies as to our love for one another. Pressed this out through the centuries and you’ll see authority always rests as a result of love, never on power! This is how authority is displayed in the Holy Trinity and it is always how authority works best among we humans. So, today, who do you love? That really reveals what your authority really is.
P.S. A CORRECTION! PLEASE TAKE NOTE! Do I have your attention? Our next Faith Encouraged LIVE program airs December 14th, not this Sunday night the 7th. Because of a scheduling change due to a 5th Sunday in November our program on the Second Coming will be Sunday NIght December 14th at 8 PM. No worries, this just gives us more time to prepare! It’s going to be a great program where we will discuss not the errors of modern teachings but the healthy and wise teachings of the Church through the centuries that actually better prepare us for our eternal encounter with God. So, listen and call in on Sunday night December 14th at 8 PM for our program “His Kingdom will have NO End!” That’s on AncientFaith.com!