Authority and Justice Potter

Reading: Mark 11:27-12:12

The taxonomy of authority is interesting. You have hierarchical authority – i.e. I’ve been here longer or knew the right people or proved my worth to the institution and so I’ve got a title like VP or Chief Priest. You have moral authority – i.e. I’ve done something unusual in the past worthy of respect like serve in the military during a war, or Elder. You have the authority of knowledge – i.e. I have spent a lifetime studying and learning about some area of life so people defer or consult me, like the scribes. All those have a clear human basis even the moral authority.

Jesus’ question to the chief priests, scribes and elders is: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men? John’s authority to baptize, the authority of a sacrament, the authority of a prophet, do they fit nicely in a human taxonomy of authority, or are they something wholly other? What they desperately want to do is say “of men” and so subordinate, exclude or domesticate the prophet. If that authority is “of men” then it can be denied. But the crowds won’t let them. Like justice Potter’s dictum around pornography – “I know it when I see it” – the crowds knew the John’s authority was not “of men”. Likewise Jesus does not teach as the scribes, but as one with authority. Fallen though we are, we recognize truth when we hear it. The real question is do we react like the chief priests and elders and scribes and try to apprehend and crucify it, or do we accept its authority over our lives? Does Jesus’ authority come from men and so he has no real authority, or does it come from God? Pick one, no whimp-outs.

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