When he had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them in reply, “I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” He himself said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-27)
Now I know where politicians get their dance – you know, the dance where they don’t answer the question. Where a lot of words are spoken but no one of them makes sense! Today’s Gospel has the chief priests and elders squirming and dancing as they try to come up with an answer to Jesus’ question.
They also missed the true meaning of “authority”. They and we think that “authority” has to do with power–the power to do this or that. But it’s more than that: authority is also a matter of permission. To have authority is to have permission from some greater authority to speak or act in a particular area.
The exercise of genuine authority is not to control but, on the contrary, to be an agent in releasing the potential that is in people, to be an empowering agent. Jesus did not wield coercive authority. He invited people to follow him. He came to serve not be served. He came to give life, life in its fullness. He came to lead people into the full development of all they could be and were meant to be.
Our leaders exercise power but very few exercise authority. In the exercise of power, we look to our own interests but in the exercise of authority we look to the interests of others.
Think about the people who hold authority for you. They are not concerned about themselves. They do not dominate or control you. They inspire you. They call forth from you faith, hope, and trust. They expand your world, open new possibilities, and bring forth life and gifts in yourself that you never knew were there. They cause you to reevaluate your life, change your mind, and live differently. That sounds an awful lot like Jesus and it’s very different from those who exercise power.
Every day God authorizes us to enter and sends us into his vineyard, to act in this world with his authority and on his behalf through the gifts he has bestowed upon each one of us. God shares his authority with us. The authority God shares with us is nothing less than his own divine attributes. It is the expression and manifestation of God’s life in and through our own.
There is no one without authority. The difference isn’t that some have authority and others don’t. The difference is that some recognize and exercise their authority and others do not. Regardless, God knows and sees the authority he has given us and waits for us to see and know it too.
If you wonder what has happened to our world, to our society, all you need to do is look around. Too many have rejected the life fulfilling authority of Jesus to grow and be His beacon. Too many have twisted His words and the Christian faith so it suits their beliefs, prejudices and needs. Too many have made Church a market place where they barter their prayers and actions for a gift from God.
So here is a simple question: What do you care about? What do I care about? Are we like the religious leaders to whom Jesus is talking, whose primary care is for social standing and personal reputation and twisted perspectives as well as the comforts that come with a lifestyle of privilege? Or is our primary concern going to be for the honor of our Father God who authorizes us to go out and work for him in the vineyard of his Kingdom? Who authorizes us to live only His words? Is your answer “ I will?”
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let your light shine in my heart and in my mind that I may grow in understanding the truth of your word and find joy and freedom in living according to it.”
The coming of God’s kingdom or reign on the earth inevitably leads to conflict – a conflict of allegiance to God’s will or my will, God’s justice or the world’s way of playing fair, God’s standard of absolute moral truth or truth relative to what I want to believe is good and useful for the time being. How do you respond to Jesus’ claim to be not only the Messiah, but the source of everlasting life and truth as well? Do you submit to his word and stake your life on the coming of his kingdom? Jesus promises that those who seek to live according to God’s truth will find true joy, freedom, and happiness both now and forever.