Rev Ken Moody-Arndt is my brother-in-law. Married to Beth's sister, Ken is a retired United Methodist pastor. He served several churches in the East Ohio Annual Conference. He is a gifted writer of music and reflections on weekly lectionary readings. I love this piece he recently wrote.
(Exodus 17. 1-7, Philippians 2. 1-13, Matthew 21. 23-32)
Authority is a troubling concept, in our day and age. It seems that everybody today is bitterly suspicious of any kind of authority. Exodus and Matthew show us that this is not a new thing.
The people of Israel challenge Moses’ authority. “…there was no water for the people to drink.” They have a legitimate beef. What we are talking about here is real hunger, real thirst, not simply time-for-lunch stomach growling, or the longing for a cold drink on a hot day. Such basic physical need puts us right in the moment. It’s pretty hard not to see past thirst. The people are thirsty. And so they confront Moses. But they don’t stop with thirst. They call Moses’ whole program into question, and his authority to lead them to this vaguely defined ‘Promised Land.’ ‘You’ve led us out into the middle of nowhere,’ they say. ‘Into this waste land, to die!'
They question Moses’ authority — but they are really questioning God. Authority is not what it seems!
Matthew shows us a different kind of challenge to authority. The chief priests and the elders of the people come to Jesus while he’s in the middle of teaching, and they demand to know where his authority comes from. Jesus doesn’t answer them directly — but the answer that he does give offers an interesting insight not only into authority, but what it looks like truly to respond to authority. He tells them this parable of two sons. Which of the two truly respected the father’s authority? The first one seems to be going through the motions, putting on a surface show of obeying authority. The second obeys — but only after considering the matter. But, ultimately, he is the one who obeys. So it is the rebellious son who is genuinely and truly obedient to authority. Let's ponder that one for a bit. Rebellion is not always what it seems, either!
Exodus shows a challenge to Moses’ authority — which, as it turns out, is really a challenge to God’s authority. Matthew shows us a challenge to Jesus’ authority which -- as we understand it, anyway -- is also a challenge to God’s authority.
Where do we see challenges to authority in our own life? Ha! Where do we not? Where, in our fractious, civilly- and not-so-much disobedient society, to we find authority we can respect?
Paul’s letter to the Philippians shows us one thing we can depend upon: true authority lies outside of our selves. “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others…,” and similar statements, mean above all, “don’t make an authority out of yourself!” Don’t appoint your self as the final authority — about anything!
Where shall we find our true authorities, our true leaders? In those who do nothing out of vanity or selfish conceit. In those who count others as better than themselves. In those who look to the interests of others before their own.
In regard to authority, as with all things, I would invite us to let Christ be a model — Jesus, who, when faith demanded it, humbled himself and was himself obedient, even to the point of death.
May we seek his authority here, at his Table.
And this Table is open to everyone…friend, enemy, first time attender, first time listener, long time member -- everyone, without regard to race, creed, immigrant status or sexual orientation, everyone.
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