Authentic authority

Epiphany 4 (February 1, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Deut. 18:15-20; Ps. 111; I Cor. 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

This week the fragile ceasefire between Hamas and Israel began to unravel and fighting resumed in Gaza. This morning, several rockets were fired from Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quickly vowed a “disproportionate” response.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell visited the region last week and met with Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders. Unfortunately, he did not visit Gaza and refused to meet with leaders of Hamas. Mitchell called for a more durable ceasefire and urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

We had hope to visit MCC partners in Gaza tomorrow, but that is looking increasingly unlikely. While a few international aid workers are getting into Gaza, many are not.

King Abdullah with son Hashem (Jordan Times photo by Yousef Allan)

Jordanians celebrated King Abdullah’s 47th birthday, Jan. 30. His son, Prince Hashem, celebrated his 4th birthday on the same day. The occasion was used to recite the king’s humanitarian accomplishments during the past year (increasing affordable housing) and dreams for the coming year (upgrading the agricultural sector). In a reversal of gift-giving, King Abdullah used his birthday to distribute 1,001 truckloads of food to poor families in Jordan.

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on true and false authority. According to these texts, authentic authority is truthful, honorable, powerful, just, and able to create, sustain and bring about positive changes. It inspires a following.

In the Old Testament reading, God promises to send a prophet who will speak God’s words. God will hold the people accountable based on whether or not they “heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name” (Deut. 18:19). The test of true and false prophets is simple: Do their words come true or not? (vv. 21-22)

The psalmist gives thanks to God with his “whole heart” (Ps. 111:1) because God’s works are great (v.2), full of honor and majesty (v.3), powerful (v.6), faithful and just (v.7). Fear of this God is the beginning of wisdom (v.10).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one” (I Cor. 8:4). Indeed, says Paul, “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (v.6).

In the Gospel reading, the people of Capernaum are astounded at the authority of Jesus’ teaching (Mark 1:22) and amazed at his authority over unclean spirits (vv.23-27).

Sometimes the world’s leaders live and act as if they are the final authority – unaware that they are ultimately accountable to God and to God’s call to act justly and with compassion. They demand a following but offer little that is worth following.

Kings, presidents, prime ministers and prophets come and go. By what authority do they order their lives? It is the question we should ask of all leaders who expect us to follow.

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