I wrote”Why Am I Still Here” about Christianity last week, and my answer was the covenant God, and how Jesus shows that God to us. This summer, my Monday Meditations are going to be walking through the book of Mark, one chapter at a time, to spend some time with Jesus and the earliest written record of Him.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came,
he entered the synagogue and taught.
They were astounded at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority,
and not as the scribes.
“Nobody makes you a pastor,” my CPE instructor told me. “Your pastoral authority is yours and yours alone. If you don’t have that authority inside you, then other people can always take it away. Authority isn’t passed out like a degree or a job title. You have it once you decide you do.”
Jesus walks into a synagogue and starts to talk, with no institutional credentials, no mentors, no roots in the community, no official capacity, and as soon as he starts to talk, everyone knows that he’s different.
This one has authority.
I roll in church circles that are obsessed with authority. Twitter blew up two weeks ago with the Women Blogger Issue, when a Christianity Today women’s column wondered “by what authority do they teach.” All these women bustling about having theological opinions on the internet! It’s a “crisis of authority – especially for women,” the writer muses. Who are they to stand up and have opinions without a pastor or bishop approving what they say?
The assumption inside churches is that authority is something given to you. You’ve got authority as long as someone else decides that you do. And then once the institution, or congregation, or media, decides that you aren’t authoritative, you just aren’t.
But Mark specifically takes pains to say that unlike the institutional leaders, Jesus teaches with authority.
Unlike the scribes, this one has authority.
Unlike the people with establishment in the tradition, this one has authority.
Unlike the people who have the degrees, this one has authority.
Unlike the elected and chosen and groomed for power and accepted by the established religious community, this one has authority.
They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,
“What is this? A new teaching—with authority!
Jesus blows in like fresh wind into spaces that He frankly had no right to be in, and he preached and healed and cast out demons, and doesn’t seem to be even a little troubled that he doesn’t belong and hasn’t been nominated or elected or hooded.
“No one takes my life from me,” Jesus says “but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (John 10:18). Even in My living and My dying, I am My own. No one gives Me authority, and no one can take it away. This is Mine.
God, can you imagine if someone like this walked into our churches? Just stood up, asked the pastor for his little tiny ear mic, and started preaching?
Well, I’ll bet we’d kill him.
I’ll bet we’d kick him out out of our spaces, crowd him out of public events, publically condemn him, write think pieces about his shameless beliefs and behavior. We’d warn our kids about him and Tweet our farewells to him and to anyone who followed him.
But right now, I’m less concerned with how we’d react to Jesus in 2017 (although gosh darn don’t those connections write themselves).
I’m particularly fascinated with Jesus.
He just isn’t afraid.
He doesn’t worry about what people say about him. He isn’t troubled by people’s reactions or by what he does or doesn’t have. He moves forward with ridiculous, reckless confidence that what he’s doing is good. He acts like he knows that everything he does will bring in the Kingdom of God, and doesn’t change his direction or focus because of the talking heads that stalk his entire ministry. He doesn’t give anyone an inch of authority over himself – he even owns his own death: it is his own choice, and not anyone else’s.
Who does that.
Well, someone that I can trust.
Someone that I don’t have to worry about leaving me behind on the side of the road.
Someone who doesn’t worry if I end up outside institutions or establishments.
Someone who isn’t troubled by his own popularity meter, and sure isn’t worried about mine.
Someone who has bigger fish to fry than defending his reputation, and who is too busy healing the world and inaugurating the Kingdom of God to be constantly engaging in image management.
And someone who invites me to leave my own fear, defensiveness, and anxiety about Public Opinion and Institutional Judgment with my nets on the side of the lake, because there’s work to do, and all of that will just get in the way.
This is someone that I can pick up my cross and follow, because He’s already gone before me and still goes alongside me.
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
“The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.”