By Whose Authority?
Readings: Philippians 2: 1-13 and Matthew 21: 23-32
Sept. 27, 2020
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
This is a succinct and powerful testimony from Paul, spoken first to the ancient Christians and now to us. When we find ourselves torn between what to do and what not to do, when we are witnessing selfishness and conceit or asking about who to listen to and not to listen to, this word is for us. Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ.
Paul says that even when we know deep inside that God is our boss, it is still hard, but is now possible to listen to all that the world has to say and find our way through it with integrity and compassion. He is also telling us that right now consolation from love and compassion for others is needed, and when we participate in that compassionate exchange, we just might touch joy.
The Gospel begins with Jesus entering the temple only to be accosted by the chief priests and elders. When we look to the backstory, we see that this is not just some random entering of the temple. Jesus is here because he knows the cross is, even now, being prepared for him if he keeps speaking the truth about his relationship with God. By now he has already overturned the tables of the money changers. He has cured the blind and the lame who came to him in this very temple. The children have already cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The word is out about who he is and where his authority comes from.
Now he is being enticed into a war of words to silence him or murder him. This is not just a chat with the elders about theology or even politics. The questions “by what authority do you do these things?” and “who gave you this authority?” are intended to stop him in his tracks.
Jesus knows his authority was given to him by God. He has no question about “whose he is.” This is why he, who turned over the tables, can now so easily turn the questions back to the high priest and the elders. Jesus has nothing to lose. His joy is with his relationship with God. Nothing can stop him from acting out of that compassion by emptying himself of pride so he can do what he is called to do.
Jesus asks about John the Baptist so that the priests and elders will have to confront themselves and who their authority is, who they are working for and bowing to. If they speak the truth about where John the Baptist got his authority, they will have to face the anger of the crowds or the rage of Pilate. Because they do not want to tell the truth about who they know John to be, they reply, “we do not know.”
The world is as troubled now, as it was when Jesus taught. Forces of greed and evil, lies and threats of violence, a “yes” that means “no” and a “no” that means “yes” are desperately trying to sweep us up in fear for our lives and for the lives of our children. The road to Jerusalem is not limited to long ago and is not just for Jesus to walk on. It is now. We are on the road, too.
Now we are stopped in our tracks and asked, whose are you? Where does your strength and faith come from? Who are you following? Where is your compassion and joy in this time of so much discord?
We live in the world just as Jesus lived in the world. Politicians and civic and religious leaders, saints and sinners alike are filling our ears with words, much of which are slant and troubling and destabilizing. As Jesus was set up, we are, too. No wonder many of us have trouble sleeping. The best answer that we can make on a good day is, “we don’t know.”
Today’s message is that the Way to stay centered and compassionate while we are being tossed up in the air is to “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ.” The mind of God.
This is not easy. It was not easy for Jesus to keep walking to Jerusalem knowing what awaited him. It was not easy for his disciples, knowing how fearful and faithless they could be, saying “yay” one day and “nay” another. It is not easy to settle our minds while we are being purposefully twisted into knots, yet we need to do this anyhow.
We need to be of the same mind that was in Jesus. We need to turn our minds back to the old question — not just “what would Jesus do?” but “what would God do?” Where do I see God at work? Where is evil courting my allegiance? By what authority am I making decisions? Whose am I?
This take practice. When we, like Jesus, know whose we are, it is still hard, but possible, to make decisions about who and what to trust in our daily lives. When we can hear God’s Word above the roar of the words in the world we can attend to the world with courage and wisdom. When we stop the action many times a day and listen, we can make our joy complete knowing that while we know very little, what we do know is essential. Divine Love is our authority.
Pray with me. God, we are listening to You above and below the roar of the world. We trust that You are helping us discern what to do and where to go next. Thank You for never leaving us alone, tossed on the sea, rudderless. Help us to come to You when we are tempted to give too much authority to anyone other than You. And God, help us to change our minds when change is called for. Thank you for creating all of us in Your image. Center us in You.