October 1, 2017–By Whose Authority?

Posted on September 26, 2017 by faithlens

Drew Tucker, Radford, VA

 

Warm-up Question

Who has authority in your life? What are the limits to that authority?

By Whose Authority?

Eminent domain is a hot button political issue for many people. If you’re not familiar with the term, eminent domain means the government’s right to purchase private property from citizens regardless of the citizen’s desire to sell that property. In the United States, the property must be intended for public use to qualify for eminent domain. For instance, the President couldn’t just take all of your family’s land to create a private hunting reserve, but the state can make you sell a portion of the yard in front of your house if they need to widen the street for the increased amount of traffic in your neighborhood. The government has the authority of eminent domain, but it has limits and must be used properly.

That’s what the Fraternal Order of Eagles local aerie (“aerie” is the term they use for their lodges) discovered recently in Puyallup, WA. As the city continues to grow along with its neighbors Tacoma and Seattle, Puyallup is also expanding their public transportation. That new development requires the space currently owned by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles. It’s a touchy situation for aerie members, as it would likely be for church members selling a sanctuary or families selling a home. Even though they didn’t want to give up their home of nearly eight decades, the Eagles don’t view the needs of eminent domain as entirely negative.

It’s the amount offered that’s absolutely unacceptable.

Sound Transit, the public transportation authority, offered an amount well below the market value determined by a private appraiser. The Eagles hope to work out a solution with Puyallup’s city council and Sound Transit that affords them a fair price for the space and helps them locate a new building from which they can continue their philanthropic work. They haven’t necessarily challenged the government’s authority; instead, they’re arguing that they’re not using that authority well. You can read more about the Eagles hopes here (http://komonews.com/news/local/eminent-domain-cost-puyallup-eagles-their-home-now-theyre-asking-city-for-help) and see why Sound Transit wants the property here (https://www.soundtransit.org/puyallupimprovements).

While property law isn’t the most interesting subject for some, it brings up some important questions about authority.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think the government should have this authority? Why/why not?
  • How would you react if you were a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Puyallup?
  • Imagine you need public transit everyday from Puyallup into Seattle. How would you feel about the expansion project then?
  • How can a good use of authority benefit the Eagles and public transit users?

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

 

Gospel Reflection

This confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees hinges upon authority: John’s authority, Jesus’s authority, and the authority of the Pharisees. They ask a question not only to challenge John’s leadership and to scuttle Jesus’s influence. They ask in the hopes to reassert their own authority. This is because both John and Jesus challenged the control of the Pharisees in 1st century Israel. Pharisees view authority as something of a limited commodity, a thing that they had that others shouldn’t possess.

In his famously subversive fashion, Jesus flips the script and challenges their authority, first confounding them with a simple question and then a parable. Their answer to the question reveals that the Pharisees lacked the courage to lead. They didn’t want to anger the crowds, nor did they want to enter additional conversation with Jesus. If they chose an answer, there was a risk. Option 1 means they might lose their influence over the people right away. Option 2 brings the chance of further public humiliation when confronted by Jesus. Their lack of an answer is answer enough about their own authority: they don’t have the courage to lead.

The parable pushes even deeper into the meaning of authority. We hear that authority is revealed by obedience. The father had authority over both children, but only one recognized it enough to follow the father’s will into the vineyard. In effect, Jesus tells the Pharisees that those whose lives don’t reflect the will of God don’t truly comprehend God’s authority. And if you can’t understand God’s authority, you surely can’t be trusted with much authority yourself.

Deeds of the leader (John and Jesus) and deeds of the follower (the first son) confirm true authority. That’s what makes Jesus such a unique leader. His deeds of healing the sick, forgiving sinners, feeding the hungry, and giving justice to the oppressed reveal his integrity as a leader. They reveal that he deserves authority. More than that, the obedience of those who follow him reveal the contagious nature of his leadership. His authority is recognized and actualized by those under his authority. That his disciples attempt to do his will – succeeding at times and failing epically at others – shows us that Jesus carries a unique authority, one that identifies him as more than a king, smarter than a teacher, more powerful than a magician. The authority by which Jesus does–well, everything in his life–that’s God’s authority.

Discussion Questions

  • What stands out to you about this passage?
  • How does Jesus’s subversive approach reveal his authority even as it confuses those who question him?
  • Why were the Pharisees so challenged by the presence of teachers like John and Jesus?
  • Why doesn’t Jesus tell them who gave him his authority?

Activity Suggestions

  • Play “Reverse Simon (or Samantha or Sam) Says” but with a twist. Add a purpose to the game beyond winning. Perhaps have youth set the table for a meal together or put together school kits for Lutheran World Relief. Regardless, the goal isn’t to see who messes up the least. The goal is to highlight the difficulty of authority by ensuring that the person giving directions gives every direction. “Sam says walk to the table. Sam says pick up the fork with your right hand it and put it to the left of the plate.” Perhaps prompt Sam to say something silly to display the problems of displaced authority, like “fill the pitchers with thumb tacks.” Eventually, you may point out that good leadership might see someone with talent or skills and pass a level of authority on to them.
  • Plan worship together as a group. Talk about the different kinds of authority we experience. The authority of scripture as the foundation for worship. The authority of the pastor to forgive sins. The authority of the hymns, songs, and prayers to shape our doctrine. Of course, remind everyone that these are all expressions of God’s authority shown through human means.

Closing Prayer

Lord God, you gave all authority on heaven and earth to your only child Jesus. He used that authority to heal, to liberate, to forgive, and to commission, all signs of your good will. Send your Holy Spirit to help us recognize your authority in all the ways that you come to us. Tune our hearts especially to those places where we don’t expect to find you. Help us to rely, not on our own authority, but on your gracious will. In the name of Jesus Christ, our savior and friend, we pray: Amen.

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