“By what authority are you doing these things?Or who gave you this authority to do them?”Jesus said to them, “I shall ask you one question.Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.”
We can suppose from this gospel passage and others like it that the problem of authority is not new. Who has the right to direct another's thoughts, words or actions? Does anyone? Does no one? As I have studied the Protestant Reformation it seems authority is the only important question. Issues of Eucharist, Interpretation of Scripture, the Virgin Mary, the patronage of the saints and so forth line up behind the one question, "Whom shall I trust?"
Jesus rose up in the synagogue and began to speak and many people fell in line with him. Others did not. The officially established, registered, certified and authorized authorities -- rabbis, scribes and priests -- wondered, "Who is this guy?"
Of course the same question had been raised about Amos, the earliest of the writing prophets. Even Moses was challenged. As we find him in the New Testament, Jesus appears as rabbi, prophet and wandering healer. But if he was "certified" by any agency -- as I, for instance, am certified by the ordination of a Roman Catholic bishop -- the evangelists never mention it. He appears mostly as a prophet whose only claim to authority is his works and his word.
To return to the first question, the assertion that "No one has authority over me" is nonsense. The speaker is only echoing another "authority" who first cooked up the idea of anarchy.
The only real question, I think, is, "Which authority will I choose?" or "Who is worthy of my trust and respect as my authority?"
I know a fellow who clearly needs to quit drinking alcohol. He once enjoyed a respected profession, happy marriage and good relations with his family. Somehow the cunning, baffling and powerful disease of alcoholism destroyed everything for him. He has landed in the VA hospital many times, being treated for the dt's. He wants to be sober. He wants the respect of his parents, who are the only supports remaining. He fears the contempt of everyone who sees him intoxicated.
But he cannot make that simple decision to turn his life and will over to the care of God. Or at least, he has not done so yet. He wants explanations, reassurances, encouragement and -- when all those things are given -- still refuses to act. And by not choosing he chooses his disease again and again.
The human being, as Jesus clearly demonstrated, is a creature who needs and wants the guiding, reassuring hand of a benevolent authority. Jesus found that in his Abba-Father, and he offers himself to us as the "Way" to his Father.
On this feast of Saint Justin Martyr we celebrate a philosopher who was led by his questions, by the witness of martyrs and by the Holy Spirit to surrender his life to Jesus Christ. We pray with him and with all the saints that each us might do the same -- daily.