Sunday’s sermon: Who Authorized This?!

authority

Text used – Mark 11:27-12:12

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • When I was in seminary, I worked in the campus library (shocker … I know!) Every summer, those of us who were student workers had the significant and generally daunting task of doing inventory.
    • Basic procedure for inventory
      • Rolling cart with a laptop on it and one of those scanning wands
      • Move slowly up and down the stacks scanning the books to make sure they were in the right place and there weren’t any anomalies (books that hadn’t been checked in before being shelved, books that were still recorded as being on reserve for a class, books that had been marked missing in our computer system, etc.)
      • Kept various stacks on the cart so our supervisor could make the required changes in the computer catalogue system
    • Every. Single. Book. In the entire library … BOTH. FLOORS. Thousands of books, DVD, resources, and so on. It literally took the entire summer. However, doing inventory was actually one of my favorite things to do! It definitely appealed to my type A tendencies – making order out of disorder. I also enjoyed it because I was able to download an audiobook onto my iPod, put in my earbuds, and listen to a book the whole time I was scanning the shelves. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend a summer.
    • Last summer working it was mostly me and a bunch of new people working (college freshman → UDTS shares a campus with the Univ. of Dubuque, which is an undergraduate institution) → made me the student worker with the most experience by far
      • Charge from the library director was that, as we were moving slowly through all the rows and scanning the books, we were also supposed to clean things up – get rid of any garbage, weird things sticking out of books, etc.
        • Fairly large section of the middle section of books on the 1st floor all had these weird colorful strips in them
          • Strips = bright and colorful → sticking up out of many of the books → These strips had been there for years, so as I was scanning that section, I decided to do what the director had asked us to do and clean up the shelves … so I pulled all the colorful little slips of paper out. And when another student came to relieve me when my shift was over, I told that student to do the same.
    • Low and behold, a few days later, the person in charge of the cataloguing for the UD library was in my supervisor’s office livid because all of the little slips were gone! As it turns out, she had placed those slips in there in preparation to weed that section of the library, and when she finally went to start that project and found all of her carefully-placed color-coded strips gone, she was not happy. → situation in which authority caused a tricky, sticky situation
      • Not checking with authority (even though I thought it was pretty clear since we’d been instructed to clean up the shelves and the slips had been there for years)
      • Misplaced assumptions about authority (both mine and the students who followed by direction to do the same)
      • Unclear communication among authority figures (neither my supervisor nor the library director knew what those slips meant either)
    • The idea of authority is a challenging on in the church, too.
      • Theology around authority can be challenging → far too often used to subjugate other peoples
        • Justification for slavery → white Europeans believed they had the God-given right to exercise authority over peoples “less civilized” than themselves
        • Doctrine of Discovery → papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that “established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians”[1]
          • Applied all across the world: Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas
          • Also inspired Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny in America in the 1800s which led to rapid and voracious westward expansion, uprooting a vast number of Native American tribes and paving the way for such atrocities as the Trail of Tears and Indian boarding schools that tried to brutalize native culture and language out of children in the name of white people’s “God-given Christian authority”
      • On a more local scale – authority in churches can be particularly spiny monsters all their own
        • Plenty of churches joke that everyone knows it’s the women’s group that’s really in charge of thing
        • Age-old threat that so many pastors have received from wealthier members that, if things don’t go their way, they’ll pull their financial support
        • Scholar: Recent surveys document that most church conflicts have less to do with doctrine and belief than with leadership and decision-making. In a word, with authority.[2]
  • And this is the same sort of sticky situation in which Jesus finds himself in our readings this morning – the quicksand of church authority.
    • Text: Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”[3] → At this point, we’re approaching the end of Mark’s gospel, so Jesus has been getting under the skin of the religious leaders for some time now. They’re not impressed with him anymore. They want to get rid of him. And here he is strolling around in the Jerusalem Temple right under their noses. But what are “these things” that they are questioning him about when they say, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?”
      • Chunk of Mk’s gospel that we skipped over in our readings btwn last week and this week = some crucial stories
        • 1st = Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (which we’ll read in a few weeks on Palm Sunday) → Pharisees and chief priests witnessed Jesus entering Jerusalem like a king → “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
        • 2nd = Jesus fiercely and fervently throwing the money changers and merchants out of the temple – flipping tables, throwing chairs, and roaring about them turning the temple into a “den of thieves”[4] → “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
        • 3rd = teaching on prayer – text (Jesus): “Therefore I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you. And whenever you stand up to pray, if you have something against anyone, forgive so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your wrongdoings.”[5] → “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
      • Clearly, Jesus has rankled the religious authorities beyond what they can bear. All of the other times throughout his ministry, when the Pharisees and chief priests have challenged and questioned Jesus, it’s been in response to something he’s done in that moment – a challenge after a healing or a thinly-veiled question directly following one of Jesus’ teaching sessions. This time is different. This time, Jesus and his disciples are simply moving around within the Temple grounds. This time, the Pharisees and chief priests engage Jesus directly. This time, they initiate the encounter. They bring the fight to Jesus.
    • Jesus’ response = unsurprisingly hedgy and enigmatic (Mark’s Jesus, above all the other gospels, is the Jesus of riddles and mysteries): Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[6] → And he proceeds to pose the question about John’s baptism. It seems like a simple question: “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” But it is far from simple. It is a loaded question if ever there was one.
      • Loaded because it points out the Pharisees’ own failing → aspirations and trust placed in earthly authority (their own and the authority of the oppressive Romans like King Herod) rather than in God’s heavenly authority
    • Question creates a trap for the legal experts, and they know it → close ranks, bend their heads together, whisper fiercely amongst themselves for a few moments weighing their options before copping out entirely – text: They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[7]
      • Scholar explains significance of this exchange: Neither response is politically palatable. If they point to the divine origin of John’s work, then their faithlessness, their inability to hear God’s call, becomes evident. … If they point to a human origin, the crowds will react with hostility, as they correctly perceive John’s important status in the work of God in the world.[8] → And in the face of their cowardice and faithlessness, Jesus refuses them an answer.
  • But Jesus doesn’t just leave it there. He goes on to speak to them in what is probably one of the most disturbing parables in the whole Bible.
    • Basic plot = landowner sets up a vineyard, then set off on a trip and rented it to a few tenants to farm and care for → when harvest time rolled around, landowner sent one of his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the vineyard’s produce → tenants beat the servant and send him away empty-handed → landowner sends more servants, one after the other, but the tenants beat all of them, finally killing the last one → landowner finally sends his own son, thinking (incorrectly) that the tenants will respect the son in a way they clearly didn’t respect the servants → tenants beat and kill the son and throw in him a ditch
    • Jesus’ punchline (remember, this is a parable that he’s telling to the Pharisees and chief priests, not to the disciples): “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”[9] → Jesus has left all pretense and subtlety behind at this point. His parable is uncomfortably pointed.
      • Scholar: To make a very strong point: that is the initial intention of Jesus’ parable about our persistent corruption as human beings and about God’s amazing patience, serious judgment, and promise of restoration. To the religious authorities Jesus is saying: “Just in case you are personally blind to the ongoing, arrogant, and even violent nature of your own institutional life and leadership, let me put things in the starkest of contexts. Here is my take regarding the depths of your personal and systematic pride and sinfulness.”[10]
      • To drive that point home, Jesus uses his strongest, most attention-grabbing device: quoting Scripture to those who are supposed to know it best – text (Jesus): Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”
        • Comes from Psalm 118:22-23 = hymn of joy and celebration of God’s deliverance from evil and persecution → As I said, quoting Scripture to the people that are supposed to know it best is cheeky enough, but quoting this Scripture – which speaks of God giving victory over those who hate me and taking refuge in the Lord instead of trusting in any human leader – is a particularly pointed barb. It’s Jesus’ definitive commentary on the authority that the Pharisees believe they have and the source of true authority: God alone.
    • Clearly a barb that found it’s mark – Pharisees’ response: They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.[11] → And so begins their plotting in earnest – their plotting to implicate and falsely accuse, their plotting to imprison and convict, their plotting to eventually kill Jesus.
  • Challenge of reading this Scripture, especially during Lent as we look toward Good Friday and the cross and Jesus’ crucifixion = what that can say to us about authority → “Who authorized this? Who authorized this pain? Who authorized this betrayal? Who authorized this rejection and despair and unjust death? God did.” But, friends, this is where we find the good news of the gospel, because even as we await the darkness and misery of that day, we also await the light and joy of Easter morning – the empty tomb, the stone rolled, away, and the resurrected Christ. And who authorized such a world-changing, paradigm-shifting, earth-shattering thing? God did. God did … to show us how much God loves us. God did … to show us how powerful God’s grace truly is. God did … solely for the sake of our world-weary souls. God did. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://upstanderproject.org/firstlight/doctrine.

[2] Talitha Arnold. “Mark 11:27-33 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 350.

[3] Mk 11:27-28.

[4] Mk 11:17.

[5] Mk 11:24-25.

[6] Mk 11:29.

[7] Mk 11:33.

[8] Eric D. Barreto. “Mark 11:27-33 – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 353.

[9] Mk 12:9.

[10] Dean K. Thompson. “Mark 12:1-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 357.

[11] Mk 12:12.

  • When I was in seminary, I worked in the campus library (shocker … I know!) Every summer, those of us who were student workers had the significant and generally daunting task of doing inventory.
    • Basic procedure for inventory
      • Rolling cart with a laptop on it and one of those scanning wands
      • Move slowly up and down the stacks scanning the books to make sure they were in the right place and there weren’t any anomalies (books that hadn’t been checked in before being shelved, books that were still recorded as being on reserve for a class, books that had been marked missing in our computer system, etc.)
      • Kept various stacks on the cart so our supervisor could make the required changes in the computer catalogue system
    • Single. Book. In the entire library … BOTH. FLOORS. Thousands of books, DVD, resources, and so on. It literally took the entire summer. However, doing inventory was actually one of my favorite things to do! It definitely appealed to my type A tendencies – making order out of disorder. I also enjoyed it because I was able to download an audiobook onto my iPod, put in my earbuds, and listen to a book the whole time I was scanning the shelves. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend a summer.
    • Last summer working it was mostly me and a bunch of new people working (college freshman à UDTS shares a campus with the Univ. of Dubuque, which is an undergraduate institution) à made me the student worker with the most experience by far
      • Charge from the library director was that, as we were moving slowly through all the rows and scanning the books, we were also supposed to clean things up – get rid of any garbage, weird things sticking out of books, etc.
        • Fairly large section of the middle section of books on the 1st floor all had these weird colorful strips in them
          • Strips = bright and colorful à sticking up out of many of the books à These strips had been there for years, so as I was scanning that section, I decided to do what the director had asked us to do and clean up the shelves … so I pulled all the colorful little slips of paper out. And when another student came to relieve me when my shift was over, I told that student to do the same.
        • Low and behold, a few days later, the person in charge of the cataloguing for the UD library was in my supervisor’s office livid because all of the little slips were gone! As it turns out, she had placed those slips in there in preparation to weed that section of the library, and when she finally went to start that project and found all of her carefully-placed color-coded strips gone, she was not happy. à situation in which authority caused a tricky, sticky situation
          • Not checking with authority (even though I thought it was pretty clear since we’d been instructed to clean up the shelves and the slips had been there for years)
          • Misplaced assumptions about authority (both mine and the students who followed by direction to do the same)
          • Unclear communication among authority figures (neither my supervisor nor the library director knew what those slips meant either)
        • The idea of authority is a challenging on in the church, too.
          • Theology around authority can be challenging à far too often used to subjugate other peoples
            • Justification for slavery à white Europeans believed they had the God-given right to exercise authority over peoples “less civilized” than themselves
            • Doctrine of Discovery à papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that “established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians”[1]
              • Applied all across the world: Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas
              • Also inspired Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny in America in the 1800s which led to rapid and voracious westward expansion, uprooting a vast number of Native American tribes and paving the way for such atrocities as the Trail of Tears and Indian boarding schools that tried to brutalize native culture and language out of children in the name of white people’s “God-given Christian authority”
            • On a more local scale – authority in churches can be particularly spiny monsters all their own
              • Plenty of churches joke that everyone knows it’s the women’s group that’s really in charge of thing
              • Age-old threat that so many pastors have received from wealthier members that, if things don’t go their way, they’ll pull their financial support
              • Scholar: Recent surveys document that most church conflicts have less to do with doctrine and belief than with leadership and decision-making. In a word, with authority.[2]
            • And this is the same sort of sticky situation in which Jesus finds himself in our readings this morning – the quicksand of church authority.
              • Text: Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”[3] à At this point, we’re approaching the end of Mark’s gospel, so Jesus has been getting under the skin of the religious leaders for some time now. They’re not impressed with him anymore. They want to get rid of him. And here he is strolling around in the Jerusalem Temple right under their noses. But what are “these things” that they are questioning him about when they say, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?”
                • Chunk of Mk’s gospel that we skipped over in our readings btwn last week and this week = some crucial stories
                  • 1st = Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (which we’ll read in a few weeks on Palm Sunday) à Pharisees and chief priests witnessed Jesus entering Jerusalem like a king à “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
                  • 2nd = Jesus fiercely and fervently throwing the money changers and merchants out of the temple – flipping tables, throwing chairs, and roaring about them turning the temple into a “den of thieves”[4] à “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
                  • 3rd = teaching on prayer – text (Jesus): “Therefore I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you. And whenever you stand up to pray, if you have something against anyone, forgive so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your wrongdoings.”[5] à “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
                • Clearly, Jesus has rankled the religious authorities beyond what they can bear. All of the other times throughout his ministry, when the Pharisees and chief priests have challenged and questioned Jesus, it’s been in response to something he’s done in that moment – a challenge after a healing or a thinly-veiled question directly following one of Jesus’ teaching sessions. This time is different. This time, Jesus and his disciples are simply moving around within the Temple grounds. This time, the Pharisees and chief priests engage Jesus directly. This time, they initiate the encounter. They bring the fight to Jesus.
              • Jesus’ response = unsurprisingly hedgy and enigmatic (Mark’s Jesus, above all the other gospels, is the Jesus of riddles and mysteries): Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[6] à And he proceeds to pose the question about John’s baptism. It seems like a simple question: “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” But it is far from simple. It is a loaded question if ever there was one.
                • Loaded because it points out the Pharisees’ own failing à aspirations and trust placed in earthly authority (their own and the authority of the oppressive Romans like King Herod) rather than in God’s heavenly authority
              • Question creates a trap for the legal experts, and they know it à close ranks, bend their heads together, whisper fiercely amongst themselves for a few moments weighing their options before copping out entirely – text: They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[7]
                • Scholar explains significance of this exchange: Neither response is politically palatable. If they point to the divine origin of John’s work, then their faithlessness, their inability to hear God’s call, becomes evident. … If they point to a human origin, the crowds will react with hostility, as they correctly perceive John’s important status in the work of God in the world.[8] à And in the face of their cowardice and faithlessness, Jesus refuses them an answer.
              • But Jesus doesn’t just leave it there. He goes on to speak to them in what is probably one of the most disturbing parables in the whole Bible.
                • Basic plot = landowner sets up a vineyard, then set off on a trip and rented it to a few tenants to farm and care for à when harvest time rolled around, landowner sent one of his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the vineyard’s produce à tenants beat the servant and send him away empty-handed à landowner sends more servants, one after the other, but the tenants beat all of them, finally killing the last one à landowner finally sends his own son, thinking (incorrectly) that the tenants will respect the son in a way they clearly didn’t respect the servants à tenants beat and kill the son and throw in him a ditch
                • Jesus’ punchline (remember, this is a parable that he’s telling to the Pharisees and chief priests, not to the disciples): “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”[9] à Jesus has left all pretense and subtlety behind at this point. His parable is uncomfortably pointed.
                  • Scholar: To make a very strong point: that is the initial intention of Jesus’ parable about our persistent corruption as human beings and about God’s amazing patience, serious judgment, and promise of restoration. To the religious authorities Jesus is saying: “Just in case you are personally blind to the ongoing, arrogant, and even violent nature of your own institutional life and leadership, let me put things in the starkest of contexts. Here is my take regarding the depths of your personal and systematic pride and sinfulness.”[10]
                  • To drive that point home, Jesus uses his strongest, most attention-grabbing device: quoting Scripture to those who are supposed to know it best – text (Jesus): Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”
                    • Comes from Psalm 118:22-23 = hymn of joy and celebration of God’s deliverance from evil and persecution à As I said, quoting Scripture to the people that are supposed to know it best is cheeky enough, but quoting this Scripture – which speaks of God giving victory over those who hate me and taking refuge in the Lord instead of trusting in any human leader – is a particularly pointed barb. It’s Jesus’ definitive commentary on the authority that the Pharisees believe they have and the source of true authority: God alone.
                  • Clearly a barb that found it’s mark – Pharisees’ response: They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.[11] à And so begins their plotting in earnest – their plotting to implicate and falsely accuse, their plotting to imprison and convict, their plotting to eventually kill Jesus.
                • Challenge of reading this Scripture, especially during Lent as we look toward Good Friday and the cross and Jesus’ crucifixion = what that can say to us about authority à “Who authorized this? Who authorized this pain? Who authorized this betrayal? Who authorized this rejection and despair and unjust death? God did.” But, friends, this is where we find the good news of the gospel, because even as we await the darkness and misery of that day, we also await the light and joy of Easter morning – the empty tomb, the stone rolled, away, and the resurrected Christ. And who authorized such a world-changing, paradigm-shifting, earth-shattering thing? God did. God did … to show us how much God loves us. God did … to show us how powerful God’s grace truly is. God did … solely for the sake of our world-weary souls. God did. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://upstanderproject.org/firstlight/doctrine.

[2] Talitha Arnold. “Mark 11:27-33 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 350.

[3] Mk 11:27-28.

[4] Mk 11:17.

[5] Mk 11:24-25.

[6] Mk 11:29.

[7] Mk 11:33.

[8] Eric D. Barreto. “Mark 11:27-33 – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 353.

[9] Mk 12:9.

[10] Dean K. Thompson. “Mark 12:1-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 357.

[11] Mk 12:12.