Every now and then, there are times when you show up someplace after some period of time and discover that your interim absence had been noted. You know, in places where you didn’t think you were that much a part of things. Such was my visit to St. Ben’s last night. Owing to circumstances upon which I have not yet commented here (but will eventually), I’ve not made it out to St. Ben’s on Sunday evening since Christmas, so there’s been a 3½-month interval since my last appearance. It was good to reconnect with folks and to discover that perhaps we’ve become more a part of the community there than we’d realized. I also had a good conversation with someone I’d not met before. Turns out yesterday was “Good Shepherd Sunday” — there are all kinds of things in the church calendar and in the Anglican tradition that I’m still finding out for the first time, but I was reminded again how rich the liturgy is and how much I’d missed it.
The homily was naturally focused on John 10, where even Jesus mixes his metaphors. (I don’t feel so bad now!) I was struck with a statement about the identity of “the thief”, and it made sense not only logically but also in light of an observation I made some time ago in John 3. In John 10, the thief is anyone who claims authority they don’t have — they look at the sheep for their own ends. These are those who would call to the sheep as if they owned them… yet they do not.
I’ve said before that authority is given through relationship by those over whom it is held, not mandated from above by position. This observation from John 10 is right in line with this sentiment. Coincidentally enough, I’ve been reading occasionally with my oldest daughter through a history encyclopedia that covers the entire history of the world from prehistory through the end of the 20th Century. It’s illustrated and geared so a tween can grasp it, and we normally read a two-page section in a sitting. Doesn’t take long, but that’s the length of each period. Tonight we did the enlightenment, covering some of the major influences, influencers, and ideas. Notably, one of John Locke‘s contributions is noted there, that “legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed” (social contract). I was not aware, but just discovered in chasing down a link for this post that he wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration — And Biblical Authority, so now I’m going to have to go and give that a read.
Hey Bro. Maynard –
I like the perspective on the thief from John 10. Having preached on it myself Sunday, I think that this helps round out my thoughts on this passage.
However, I think Jesus was probably going the opposite direction from Locke and a certain American document from July of 1776: It seems, rather, that he was asserting his authority over the Pharisees and declaring the invalidity of their authority since he had come from the Father. In calling the Pharisees “thieves” and “insurgents”, he was trumping their authority. I agree that relationship has to be involved, more than position, but the consent of the Pharisees (or rather lack thereof) to the notion that Jesus was the Son of God didn’t make it any less true, either.
Or am I totally misunderstanding you?
Grace and Peace –
Right about Locke — the principles of democracy don’t really apply to the authority of Jesus through the Father. I’ve written about this kind of authority before as a response to the kind of “spiritual covering” teaching that goes on in some circles. Jesus holds “all authority in heaven and earth” but it’s hard to find where he explicitly gives it to any of us over other people. More to the point, if we look at how he exercised his authority, it bears little resemblance to what we see today. As long as we’re in John, we can use the example of 13:3ff.
Where Locke’s ideas come into play is more in the exercise of authority by people over people as they attempt to live in community together. A pastor doesn’t have “authority over” the people in his parish because it’s passed down from above and that’s that… in reality, any authority he has is based in his relationships with the people of his parish. They listen to him because they know him… know his voice. Hey, we’re back in John 10 again, aren’t we? ;^)
(Clearly I’m talking about spiritual authority, not such authority as that under which a policeman issues a ticket.)
I’m right with you on the “spiritual covering” theology. I have seen a lot of people get beat up in that system.
Having worked as a pastor in a congregational setting where people are willing to assert themselves as authorities over the Pastor to dictate content of sermons or even to try to dictate what passages of scripture won’t be preached on because they are offensive (in one case, the entire book of Amos), I have to suggest that there is some level of inherent authority in the Apostolic Office to be able to preach whether it is accepted or not.
At the same time, the authority to be heard resides in the relationship with the people.
I guess I’m seeking a both-and approach myself.
Am I making sense?
For what it is worth I believe spiritual authority is spiritually discerned. Unlike the gentiles we are not to Lord it over one another…but the greatest among us must be the servant of hall. Recognizing spiritual authority cloaked in humility and the willingness to take the lower or last place is not in the dictionary of Western thought. We think of authority as type A, authoritarian, forceful, charismatic take charge “leader”. Because we see through distorted lenses we are apt to not see the real gifts among us.
As a young Christian I was led to a Baptist Church. When I asked the Lord, Why do you want me here?” He responded by pointing out two men. “You are to watch Roy and Mastin’s lives. One was a young “pastor”, Roy Thomas, whose very attitude was servant like. I remember one incident where he was criticized for attending a marketing meeting for one of the members (it was I believe Amway.) his reply was, “Don’t you understand? They invited me and because they did I’m going. Don’t you see, because it’s important to them it is important to me!!”
You see, when I think of Roy (these 30 years later) i think of “love doesn’t seek its own but what is best for the beloved.” Love is not selfish! Seeing such a servant made me open to Roy, to his guidance even to his correction. Fruitful tees have an attractive fragrance of the Holy Spirit.
The second was a 70+ brother named Maston Rea. He never gave a message publicly. He had little of this world’s goods. he was not an elder or deacon. He never taught a Sunday school class. he just sort of blended in. HOWEVER,
My first contact with Maston was when he showed up at at our home with some groceries and a gift certificate. later i found out that some anonymous someone had also paid our electric bill! The more I watched him the more I someone who had no outward trappings of religion but who had character that spoke louder than words! It made me open to him. It caused me to want to be like him.
By their fruits ye shall know them. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.” Neither of these men claimed or coveted position or authority over others – they were quiet, gentle, easily entreated and meek men but they “ruled” by example. It is my prayer that I may be like them for they were like the Master.
oops…fruitful Trees have the fragrance of the Holy Spirit…