One of the most famous sermons of all time is probably Jesus’ sermon on the mount. This sermon begins with the beatitudes (or “be attitudes”) where Jesus names things as blessed that go against what society might give that hashtag to. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. The sermon continues on for a few chapters calling on people to love their neighbor but also to love their enemies. It calls on people to turn the other cheek; it teaches the prayer that is said in churches around the world, calling on God’s kingdom to come in this world, not to judge others, and the infamous golden rule, and much more. At the end it reads, “ Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
This authority would continue to guide Jesus as he heals people, including on the sabbath. It would be with him as he called his disciples, including Matthew the tax collector. It would be with him as he traveled and hundreds would come seeking healing and to hear him teach. This authority would also threaten the leaders, and lead to his death.
Power and authority are not the same thing. Sometimes a person may have both, but power comes from position. Authority comes from a community. We all know of those who have been in a position of power and yet people don’t give them respect. They haven’t earned authority. However, Jesus is one who held no power. He didn’t have a position in society, he came from Nazareth and a carpenter’s family. Yet his authority was like no other. This authority was rooted in love and rooted in words that called forth a different community, a different way of living together. It was authority that reconciled the outcasts back into community, granted forgiveness, questioned the systems in society that oppressed and excluded others. This authority questioned the unjust systems that those in power were rooted in.
Throughout the gospels the leaders would come to Jesus and question by what authority he was doing or saying things. Jesus typically responded using a parable that would give insight into God’s kingdom that is a place for equality, dignity for all, and an end to the oppressive and unjust systems. As word of this movement spread, the authorities became more and more frustrated and eventually found a way to have the system kill Jesus on a cross. Yet even on the cross Jesus spoke words of forgiveness and grace.
Three days later Jesus was raised from the dead. It was the ultimate proclamation that the unjust powers of this world do not have the final authority. God continues to proclaim that message of love, justice, and grace. Powers in this world will continue to work to keep systems of oppression in place, systems fed by racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and xenophobia. Sometimes we can feel helpless in the face of a powerful system that seems focused on perpetuating this oppression and perpetuating a system that says that peace is the absence of tension, instead of the presence of justice.
The call to follow Jesus is to follow the authority that acts out of love, grace and reconciliation.
To follow Jesus is about being a part of a movement that challenges systems of oppression and hate and to renounce those forces of evil. To follow Jesus and live by what Jesus commands is to live in a way that seeks not power of control over others, but authority filled with love. To follow Jesus is to make disciples that share God’s message of grace and love for all people.
At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
God promises to be with us, even when the systems of power and oppression seem overwhelming.
Dcs. Kristin Lewis
Oct. 7, 2020