1 Corinthians 8:1-13
You’ve all seen the bumper sticker – “Quest ion Authority.”
Apparently it was Socrates who first encouraged his students to “question
authority” but it was Timothy Leary who made it popular in our time. When Jesus
started teaching there were many people who questioned his authority and
throughout our readings from Mark this year we’re going to be hearing ways in
which Mark underlines his authority. The word authority has the same root as
author so it means the power to act closely connected to the ability to create.
In our liturgy we often talk of Jesus as the author of our
salvation. This doesn’t mean that he wrote about it but that our salvation
stems from his life, death and resurrection. We also wait in hope for the day
when Christ’s authority over all the nations will become apparent. That is the
day when conflict will end and a new order will be created in which we are able
to live in peace, harmony and justice and according to the prophets, even the
violence of the food chain will be broken and the lamb will be able to sit down
with the lion. He is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end – the author
and completer of creation.
Yet when we think about authority we most often think of it
in terms of power-over. The authorities
are the ones who have the power to make and enforce laws, who make decisions
which effect how we live. The tax authorities make and enforce the rules about
taxes, local authorities decide which roads will be repaired and how people can
use land and property, here in Los Osos we might think especially of the
Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. In some places
the authorities have the power to govern how you think through control of the
media and repression of free speech.
That picture of authority feeds in to the image of God as completely
external to creation, sitting on a throne wielding power and, yes, authority; listening
to our prayers and making decisions about the lives of his subjects from an
objective distance. But what happens to this idea of authority if instead we
imagine God as a fluid Spirit moving in and around and among creation? What
happens to this idea of authority if we think of God as co-creator, working with
the circumstances of our lives, rather than pulling strings from outside?
Now the authority moves into the creatorship – the Christ,
the God-impulse is that which pulls all things towards their intended
completion or perfection – that for which they were intended from the very
beginning. The Alpha and Omega.
So the authority of Christ is not that of a distant
legislative body or a distant ruler, but the authorship of all that is
happening to unfold the greatest love within even the smallest cell, even the
minutest or most distant quark. The authority of Christ works in us, the cells
of the body of Christ to transform us into members of the divine being. But we
too have authority, we too are creators with ability to act and so the secret
of the spiritual life, of the life lived with God, is to surrender our
authority to Christ’s.
The question that the church in Corinth had raised about
eating meat offered to idols is more a question of authority than a question of
diet. If they were as Christians acknowledging and surrendering to the authority
of Christ was it right to eat food which had been blessed to acknowledge the
authority of another? Paul’s response is that it doesn’t matter since the idols
have no authority – they are but empty shells with no ability to create.
However, he cautions, if eating the meat causes a difficulty for someone else,
then don’t do it. In loving community, people’s differing sensibilities need to
be taken into account. When we are followers of Christ, when we surrender our
personal authority to his, then we seek to use our creativity in ways that we
are in line with Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ example.
Whenever humans work together we have to give authority to
some people to act as leaders because otherwise we would be unable to move
forward. We question authority to make sure that t is being used in ways that
are consistent with our values. The church in Corinth acknowledged Paul’s authority
as a teacher and leader of the new movement.
The people in the synagogue in Capernaum were amazed by Jesus’
teaching because it was new and different. Whereas the scribes could only refer
to the tradition and teach that which had been taught before, Jesus taught something
new. And he taught it with authority – with power. He was not just teaching
what he had been taught by his rabbis – his teaching came from his own knowledge
of God. For him, the reign of God was not a concept in a book but a lived
When we are living our lives with Christ then our words too
will have authority because they come from an inner knowing. When you write a
letter or a poem or a book, it is the creativity that you bring to the subject
which communicates because you have given it your own authorship – you are not
just reciting a string of facts or facile opinions but bringing something out
of yourself. This was the difference in Jesus’ teaching – he brought his own
deep inner knowledge of the ways of God. So he spoke with authority.
People in our time are eager to hear the ways of God taught
with authority. Too often they have heard the prejudices of preachers masked as
the word of God and so they are wary. But when we speak from our own deep
knowledge of God’s love and God’s gentle transformation then there are always
those who are hungry to hear.
In order to do that, we need to have a deep walk with Christ
ourselves. We need to acknowledge Christ’s authority in the depths of our being
and follow the Spirit’s lead. This is not giving up our own authorship in a
submissive way, but acknowledging that for us to have authentic authority in
our own lives we have to be living in the way we were created to be – in loving
surrender and co-creation with the divine. It’s a difficult relationship to describe, and
I think that is why Jesus often used “Abba, Father” in an attempt to communicate the
deep connection where God’s authority is honored and his will is listened to,
and from that place of oneness, our own authority springs anew.
When we are willing to listen and willing to be changed,
then we will be ready and open to hear Jesus’ teaching with the newness and the
authority that rang clear in Capernaum all those centuries ago.