Sunday 27th Sept
Questions about authority and compliance are the focus of our gospel reading today – and how relevant they are in today’s world. As I write, we’ve had another set of regulations placed upon us in relation to the pandemic. The question the Jewish leaders put to Jesus – ‘by what authority do you do these things?’ – is the question that should always be asked of anyone who assumes authority to give orders or instructions about how we are to live our lives.
Sometimes that authority is clearly given, a mandate, in our times usually by a vote, an election. Even an election can be challenged if it’s not been carried out properly or if the outcome is so close that it shows there is no clear mandate. In recent years there have been more frequent challenges to elections both here and in other countries though sometimes that has been because we just don’t like what they stand for. Is that justified?
Other forms of authority are informal: someone is recognised as ‘an authority’ in their field, through their knowledge or their skill. That’s often gained over time as their work demonstrates their standing. These days that kind of authority has also been challenged. Remember a certain politician saying we’d all lost faith in ‘experts’? I wonder what he thinks now.
Jesus, he had not gone through the processes of becoming an authority within his faith that the Pharisees and rabbis had, so the question was a legitimate one. The responses from the Pharisees showed they recognised another sort of authority – popular acclaim. They didn’t want to give an answer that would inflame the crowds. We and they are rightly sceptical of that: ‘mob rule’ has been very destructive in the past, though they were quick to use it to hasten Jesus’ end.
The whole passage makes us think carefully about who claims and who is deserving of authority. For us, the test is always how they measure up to the standards set for us in the gospels. Does this authority help those most in need or is it lining its own pockets? Does the leadership they exert take us nearer the kingdom of heaven or its opposite? Do they speak in terms we recognise from our faith or with only worldly considerations in mind?
It’s important for us to keep safe and so we do want to keep to the rules. We also want to do the things that God requires. That’s the point of the parable. Let’s find ways of helping the kingdom along by working in God’s Vineyard needed now more than ever.