February 15, 2017
Epiphany VI (Psalm 101, 109; Isaiah 63:15-64:9; 1 Timothy 3:1-16; Mark 11:27-12:12)
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’-Mark 11:27-28
We struggle today with the idea of authority in a variety of ways, and the texts today deal with authority in a variety of ways. We see across these texts people who abuse authority, an appeal to God’s authority, a discussion about those who hold authority in the church, and a questioning of Jesus’ authority by those who felt their authority questioned!
We hear this come out in different ways today. “What gives you the right to tell me what to do?” “Tell me your qualifications/credentials again…” and even statements like “Not my president…” There is a not-so-subtle indication that authority is not assumed, it must be earned. And if someone seems to be exercising authority toward something I disagree with or which threatens me, I immediately question them.
These religious leaders do the same thing. But notice Jesus’ question. It is genius! Amongst other things, it exposes something of which we are all guilty: we question authority in order to disparage or discount others, not in an effort to discover real authority.
And it helps to distract from the ways in which we have failed to properly exercise authority in our own lives. This is the point of Jesus’ parable. People who were given authority over the vineyard abused it and the people they were meant to “protect and serve” (to borrow a contemporary phrase).
For those of us who follow Jesus, we have authority that is to be exercised in service to the world. We also are free to submit ourselves to others, as people all under Christ’s authority. What could it look like for us to seek to use our influence for the flourishing of others?