Saturday, October 10, 2009

The True Authority

Jesus is deeply concerned about God’s reputation. He acts, more than anyone else in the Bible, as God’s PR agent. He truly acts as God’s Son, and, as any child of a famous parent, he is constantly living in the midst of his parent’s reputation, whether good or bad. This could be both exciting and disturbing. Exciting, because of the attention one receives that most people do not. But mostly, the child of a famous parent is disturbed, even if the reputation is generally positive. Such a child would be disturbed by the fact that most of what he or she is hearing about the parent is fundamentally misguided. Not necessarily wrong, but one’s reputation rarely is a reflection of the true personality or motivation of the one with fame—no matter how often the misconceptions are re-explained.

For instance, Jesus was constantly confronted with the reality of who people thought best represented God. If Gallup or Barna had done a first century survey of Jews throughout the world, asking the question “What person or group of persons could you trust to speak authoritatively for God?” the surveyors would get a number of responses: Priests at the temple; the Sanhedrin; the High Priest; or a particular School of Law, such as the Pharisees or the Sadducees. The interesting thing is not so much the differences of opinion, but their similarities—all of these authorities center on one place: Jerusalem. And many of them center on one person: The High Priest who was the leader of the temple priests, the Sanhedrin and the Sadducean school of Law. This fairly unified group of leaders are called in the New Testament Ioudaioi, often translated “Jews”, but better understood as “Judeans”. They could just as well be understood as “Jerusalemites”, for there was the center of political/religious Ancient Judaism. This would make sense, since the High Priest was the political/religious authority in Judea since the second century BC (as long as the U.S. have had presidents).

So when Jesus walked around ancient Galilee, people would always be referring to God’s authority as “the Judeans say this” or “the elders say that” or “the teachers say this.” The content of what they said would be some interpretation of the Law, but if it came from Jerusalem, it was authoritative—the final word.

Now Jesus had some issue with this authoritative approach to theology. This is not to mean that he was not authoritative. He was, certainly. But that was the problem. As the authority, the Son of God, the king of Jerusalem, Jesus found that the Sanhedrin and the High Priest had many things they disagreed with Jesus on. The disagreements came to a head when representatives from Jerusalem formally declared Jesus' teachings to be false and his healings to be empowered by Satan. The Judeans weren’t very diplomatic. But they didn’t need to be. They were the Accepted Authorities. They could say whatever they thought was true.

But setting aside, for a moment, the fact that they rejected Jesus’ authority, Jesus didn’t think that they qualified to be real authorities. The reason for this, Jesus said, is that they reject and even kill the ones who truly represent God—prophets and teachers such as John the Baptist. This meant that these leaders, rather than representing God’s authority and truth, actually represented their own interests. And, in the end, they would be crushed. Again, more about this later.

But who did Jesus say have God’s real message for his people? Who did Jesus say were the true authorities of God? Who should actually be listened to, if not the Judean authorities? Well, Jesus said, the folks like John the Baptist. People who spoke God’s word and were rejected, even killed for it. Folks like those who listened to John the Baptist—prostitutes and tax collectors who were rejected by the Judeans, but they listened to God’s word in humility and repentance. Folks like the man who was demon possessed with a huge crowd of demons, but who was healed by Jesus and then told to speak about what God had done for him. Folks like the Gentile centurion, rejected by the Judeans, but accepted by Jesus for his faith. Folks like the disciples who were never properly educated, but could be taught to say “The kingdom of God is near.” Jesus calls them infants and contrasts them with the well-spoken and educated. Jesus calls them poor and contrasts them with the rich and comfortable. Jesus calls them unimportant and contrasts them with the Judeans.

But Jesus also said that these are the ones who will enter God’s kingdom—receive God’s greatest blessings, exult in God’s greatest joy. These are the Anawim. The poor,and outcast-- they are the ones best suited to represent God's plan to humanity.

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