How do you decide? With all the information about COVID-19, racial tensions, the economy, politics and all the other stuff that comes from the media, social media, governments, non-government agencies and businesses, not to mention those people you have coffee with who have suddenly become experts on everything, how do you decide what’s true? Especially when what’s true might not be what you want to be true.
There’s a simple enough answer, of course. Be discerning, fact check, find sources that are educated and knowledgeable about the topic, look to qualified experts who’ve studied and researched by fair and reasoned methods and put some thought into it yourself in order to better understand everyone’s viewpoint. Try and be objective and take into consideration what would be best for everyone, as well as you, and make an informed decision that cares for people and the earth in a loving and peaceful way.
Or you can just go with that person on Facebook who had a funny meme.
We live in an era when titles, status, elected and un-elected positions of “authority” and any and all positions of power are not a guarantee of truth or authenticity. Maybe we want to say that’s new, but it’s not. We’re human beings. I think it’s always been like this, we’re just challenging it more.
Jesus was always challenging the hierarchy of his day, people in positions of “authority” that were put there by tradition, election or the use of force (soldiers or money) to exert their power. Particularly with the Temple authorities, the chief priests and the elders, he pointed out the disconnect between the heart of the law and their behaviour. And please also remember that the stories do generalize about that. There was the occasional leader, priest or elder, even a centurion, who came to Jesus in good faith.
But they also challenged him. And rightly so.
Here’s the scene: the leader arrives in town and a crowd gathers to celebrate their arrival. The crowd’s big and unruly, but happy, so nothing gets out of hand. Next day, the leader heads to an obvious seat of power and authority where they do get out of hand and totally trash the place. No charges are laid. They come back the next day and make speeches and share their views on some things. The authorities come out to challenge the leader, hoping to dislodge them and disperse the crowd. So they ask the leader “by what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Seems a reasonable enough question. And a familiar one, one that plays out a lot in the world today. Except this isn’t today, it’s Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “cleansing” the Temple, teaching and preaching, and being challenged by the chief priests and the elders of the people. Jesus’ answer, by the way, is “not gonna tell ya.”
And, because it’s Jesus, we might observe this as just another moment that Jesus challenges the status quo. Good for Jesus. But wait a minute. It’s a fair question: what is the source of Jesus’ authority? Not only is the question legitimate, I think the answer can help us with navigating that sea of issues, crises and information.
I think that Jesus walks the talk, for sure. But I don’t think it’s just that. People connect with Jesus because they also connect with the divine in Jesus and the human in Jesus. Both those things are in us and they find their way out, not just in talk about love and grace but in living that. And that’s most evident when we care for each other, especially those who’s struggle to care for themselves. It’s most evident in us when we put what’s right, what’s good for the community which is our world, ahead of our personal desires. It’s most evident when we don’t let ignorance, envy, hate or fear cloud our judgement. It’s most evident when we look for wisdom, follow the light and see that we are part of something greater than just ourselves. That’s the kind of authority Jesus wielded: authentic, sincere, radical and daring to us. Just being one’s self to Jesus.