One model of authority is to rule over people. A rather clear sign of such authority is the threat or use of a weapon. The weapon might be a fist or a gun. It could be a knife or a tongue sharpened like one. Whatever its shape weapons always cut both ways. They hurt the one targeted and the one using it. The harm done the victim is obvious, so too the offender, if they are judged a criminal. Less understood is the harm done one who is deemed justified in threatening or using a weapon. What is the harm done to an NRA member brandishing open carry, a police officer who shoots an unarmed man, a nation deploying drones against civilians?
Some people in the U.S. support the ‘rule over’ authority model and the people who exercise it. Other people are concerned about an increased normalization of “rule over” and the use of violence to effect it. Which perspective we hold may say something about our status or gender or color. These qualities may also say something about how we interpret Jesus’ authority. Those who rule over people have long interpreted Jesus as authorizing their rule. So it is that Peter being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven in this Sunday’s Gospel is interpreted to authorize ‘rule over’. An entire hierarchical system has been rationalized around the interpretation. It’s odd how things Jesus never did, like rule over people or like use weapons to effect that rule, have been normalized within his faith community. It’s not only odd, it’s harmful. What is the centuries worth of harm done to members of a supremacist class that claim the right to rule over people and do so in Jesus’ name? Is it the same harm done to the gun owner, the cop, and the nation that assume such rule; is it a loss of authority?
There comes a time when authority shifts. It shifts from external to internal; from rulers who tell us what we should do to conscientious people in communion determining what is best to do. It’s entirely possible for a person to make the shift. Is it possible for larger groups, such as Ferguson Missouri or Jesus’ faith community, to make the shift? Can we shift from an oppressive external ‘rule over’ to a collaborative internal power with? Can we model for humanity how to make the shift?
Prayer: Jesus, help us to live with others and not rule over them.
Question: How do we minimize the harm done by people who cannot make the authority shift?
August 24, 2014 Gospel Matthew 16:13-20 Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time