Gospel Reflection: Authority

29th Sun B


Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ,

I would like to thank all of you for your kind and warm welcome last weekend. I am truly looking forward to serving you as your pastor.

Today’s Gospel deals with a very important subject – the exercise of authority. People seek authority for different reasons. Some people like the power that goes with it; it makes them feel important. Others like the prestige it brings. Others like the higher salary. All these reasons have one thing in common – authority is seen as an opportunity to promote oneself.

Jean Vanier (founder of L’ Arche) distinguishes two kinds of authority: an authority which imposes, dominates and controls; and an authority which accompanies, listens, liberates, empowers, gives people confidence in themselves, and calls them to be aware of their responsibilities.

There is even a third kind of authority, silent, loving and hidden – the authority of powerless love, which waits, builds trust, and sometimes watches night and day in anguish. Parents have sometimes to wait and watch their children who have gone astray, hoping that they will come back.

Some people have a lust for power and use their authority to dominate others. This is an abuse of authority. The lust for power is rooted not in strength but in weakness. Only the weak measure their worth by whom they can dominate.

When James and John asked Jesus if they could have the top places in his kingdom, they were thinking only of themselves. They did not mind how much envy and resentment they aroused in their companions. They obviously thought that his kingdom was modeled on worldly kingdoms. Those in high places would enjoy honor, glory, and power. But Jesus told them that it wasn’t like that at all. In his kingdom the greatest would be those who were willing to serve others rather than serve themselves.

Jesus first outlined the accepted standard of civil authority: domination, with rulers lording it over their subjects. But this is not how it must be in his community. He saw authority as an opportunity to serve. As always, he set the example himself. He did not lord it over people. He appealed, he invited, but left the response to them. He would lead, but he would not control. His authority mirrored that of God. God uses his power not to control but to enable.

This is how he wanted authority to be exercised in his community. Authority should not be given to those who seek it, but only to those who have proved that they are willing to serve. Those entrusted with power over their fellow human beings ought to be caring, just, merciful, wise, tolerant, and lenient.

In order to serve, one has to be ready to drink the cup that Jesus drank—the cup of sacrifice and suffering.

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