Sunday, September 27th, Pentecost XVII, Authority Questioned
Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
Given the religious atmosphere of the day it is not surprising that Jesus’ authority is questioned. Here is this itinerant preacher associating with tax collectors and sinners and earlier in Matthew, Jesus throws the money-changers out of the temple. The religious elite want to know by what authority he is doing what he is doing.
Jesus turns the question back on them. It is not a separate question, by asking about the authority of John the Baptist. In a sense Jesus is connecting his ministry to that of John the Baptist’s. It is an extension and deepening of John’s ministry. So the question is; by what authority are both John the Baptist and Jesus doing what they are doing?
At one level Jesus, by referring to John the Baptist, is putting the religious elite in a bind because they are caught regardless of the answer, if from God, then why not follow, if human afraid of the peoples’ reaction.
But for us today, it is not for God to answer, but for us to make up our own mind as to the answer, and if yes, then the next question is; what are we going to do about it?
The outsiders would be like the son who at first says no, but later decides to join and follow Jesus. Those of us on the inside can find reasons and excuses to turn our yes into a no. This is called passive aggressive. We don’t want to say no directly but find rationalizations for this. Some of this is institutional, and the amount of time we spend at meetings dealing with buildings and administration, and not spirituality and ministry. Just a thought.
I think I have told this story before, but it seems to fit……
I had the opportunity to see a one person play on two occasions. Although the play was not very good, the two audiences and the reactions were revealing.
The play opens with the premier of the province high up in a government office tower looking down at a protest on the street below led by Jesus. Jesus joins the premier in his office, and there is a dialogue. We only see and hear the premier but we can infer what Jesus is talking about.
The first time I saw the play was at a poverty day event with poverty advocates and people on various kinds of social assistance, and with poverty issues. The overwhelming reaction was one of disbelief in how Jesus was shown. They did not feel Jesus was in any way an advocate for them in their situation.
The second time was at a Diocesan Synod, just before lunch. The play was actually stopped, because someone called for it to end. The reaction was they thought this was an unfair portrayal of the premier.
The question for us might be; Are we as the church as the bride of Christ not saying yes enough to respond to the needs of those on the margins?
Is there something else God is asking of us?
One last thought, from an Anthony DeMello story:
A mystic sitting under a tree is approached by a thief with a big sword. When the mystic show calm and no fear, the thief asks him what would impress him. The mystic points to a branch of the tree and says, cut it off. So with a big swing of the sword, the thief does just that. The thief with a look of satisfaction, turns to the mystic who seems unimpressed, and says put the branch back.
It takes more power and authority to create than to destroy.