Advent 16: Authority

I am aware of the dangers of authority, or perhaps more accurately, of authoritarianism. There is a tremendous danger in rigidity, in rejection of individuality, in rampant conformity.

Religion is frequently associated with authoritarianism.  When we read in Luke 4 that the people “were amazed at his [Jesus’] teaching, for his message was with authority,” we begin to think of the authoritarian excesses.

But the people listening to Jesus had lives full of authoritarians. Their king was Herod, for goodness sake, and he was a puppet of Rome. Their religious experience was guided by people who were incredibly detailed about rituals and routines and restrictions. They were constantly being told how their lives were to be run.

Somewhere in all this, however, something was lacking. In all of the self-confidence and arrogance and cultural and political demands, there wasn’t anyone with clear authority, anyone who could speak with the calm assurance of the one who is really in charge. Those who are trying to maintain position bluster and threaten and beg and bluff. Those who know that they are in charge don’t need such theatrics. They know what is true and speak what is true and can care and encourage and equip.

That’s what the authority of Jesus was about. He knew that he was in charge, no matter what other people believed. And everyone who heard was amazed that someone, finally, didn’t just believe what was true, he was what was true.

That kind of authority doesn’t need to be authoritarian.

(From Luke 4:31-32)