Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Don’t you Question my Authority! (Mark 10:35-45)

The self-possessed young Mormon missionary had engaged me in friendly conversation with the breezy impertinence typical of so many young American Mormons. He wanted to be my chum and tell me all about Joseph Smith. However, when I revealed that I had been a Mormon but now was a Christian and explained that the difference was grace he became positively aggressive. When I gently challenged his claims and the tone in which they were delivered he almost bellowed, “Don’t you question my authority!”

I was taken aback by his impudence but had to smile because I have memories of the “authority” he insisted was his. I remember as a young man of just nineteen receiving the “authority” he claimed now to have. I recall being told that I now had more “authority” than all the spiritual leaders in the world outside the Mormon Church. Think of that! I have seldom felt so much confidence in something I didn’t even begin to understand and that was no better understood by those people who conferred this dubious honour on me. I have often wondered since why people who lay such great store by “authority” should have such a tenuous grasp on what it is in biblical terms.

It was this kind of authority that the disciples James and John now sought from Jesus; authority conferred, a right to bestow or withhold blessing, to judge and dispatch, to proclaim orthodoxy or declare heresy. They sought to sit at the right and left hands of Jesus in glory as though it was in Jesus’ gift to simply give it. In a gospel where the message is of God’s grace, of salvation that costs us nothing and Jesus everything it is surprising to discover that in God’s kingdom authority is demonstrated by self-sacrifice and service.

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Putting your name on an office door doesn’t mean you fill the office because authority is not a right to power but a characteristic of maturity. Authority is not gained like a promotion but developed like a character trait. Maybe that’s why community leaders have always been called “elders”?

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