Reflection for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – authority.

“By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?”

The chief priests and elders questioning Jesus in Matthew 21:32-32.

“You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver.” Handforth Parish Council member.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has gone to the Temple following the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the healing of the blind and lame people who came to him and the cursing of the fig tree which provided no fruit for him when he was hungry. All this concerns the religious leaders of the Temple who challenge Jesus’ authority and its source but he refuses to engage with what they ask and begins to question them instead. He asks them a clever question about John the Baptist which ties them up in knots and then tells a story about two brothers who both change their minds about what they have told their father about work commitments. One says he won’t work but does and the other says he will but doesn’t and Jesus questions which was doing the will of his father. He then tells the chief priests and elders that tax collectors and sinners will enter the kingdom of heaven before they do – this is not the most diplomatic approach to queries about his own authority!

Authority is very much under attack today, too, in many ways. During the pandemic, a Zoom meeting of Handforth Parish Council descended into chaos as clerk Jackie Weaver intervened during conflict between the members. She was accused of not having the authority to do so, which was later proved correct, but with online meetings in their infancy, no proper guidance yet existed and the clerk did what she thought was necessary. The angry clip became an overnight sensation and a good example of both bullying and the UK’s woes at the time – guidance now available should prevent such absurd conflict in future. 

However, the authorities decided that churches must be closed during the pandemic, a decision many disagreed with and one which is still having great consequences for the congregations who have found their numbers depleted since. Lambeth Palace has also let it be known that the Archbishop of Canterbury is “shocked” at the refusal of the Home Secretary to meet him to discuss immigration and that this is considered to be “a big slap in the face.” (Daily Telegraph) The authority of the Prime Minister is also under question regarding taxes and the future of HS2 and, with local authorities unable in some cases such as Birmingham to meet their commitments, this is having profound repercussions. With the chopping down of the beautiful sycamore tree near Hadrian’s Wales by a youth of sixteen and a man in his sixties, the outpouring of anger and grief has questioned why they took authority to do this – though it seems that this vandalism may have been just  a TikTok challenge. 

Meanwhile, all this is happening at Michaelmas, the festival of Michael and the angels who act with God’s authority to bring messages of hope and assurance to a troubled world. In the chaotic times we are living through, there will be words of hope and guidance that will encourage us to persevere as we find our own authority questioned at times, too. Perhaps, like the two brothers in the story Jesus told, we sometimes need to change our minds or, like Jackie Weaver, take authority during its lack to do what is needed under the circumstances? The most frequent message of the angels is “Fear not” or some form of it – can we encourage those around us as well as ourselves by claiming and sharing these words in the complex and perplexing times we are all living through, taking authority to do what we can for those in need and finding our own needs met as we do?

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.