authority not from people

Continuing the thoughts from yesterday, I find two important aspects of Jesus' authority that differ from the positions of authority we create in human organizations. It differs primarily in that Jesus' authority is from God and not from groups of people.

First, Jesus is not granted authority by the vote of people in an organization or by officials of that group. He operated outside the social authority structures of his time. So people are surprised when he demonstrates authority in teaching and in acts of power (like healing) and in forgiveness of sins, because he had not been granted that authority by his society. Hence the elders' question, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Yet Jesus certainly spoke and acted with authority, and people recognized that. They just didn't know where it came from.

Second, Jesus' authority was not enforced by human power, by threats of punishment, for example. There was no question of being thrown in jail if people didn't obey his word. No one was in danger of being kicked out of the organization or ostracized socially if they rejected his teaching. Anyone was free at any time to obey his commands and follow his example or turn away and dismiss him. No social pressure threatened those who rejected his authority. (Actually, the social pressure soon turned harshly against those who accepted his authority.) When people followed or obeyed Jesus, it was because they believed he spoke the truth. They recognized that he was simply telling them what was truly real, and that to reject him was to reject reality, to reject God. God backed up Jesus' words—no human enforcement was required.

One way I've seen authority like this exist in everyday life, is when we follow the example or advice of someone because we recognize that person is especially gifted or skilled. We follow not because that person holds some office, but because the person is good, because they know what they are talking about. No election is needed and no enforcement of their commands is necessary. We obey because we see that they know the best way to act in their area of expertise.

But of course this means we follow different leadership according to the task at hand. Such leadership shifts from one situation to the next, depending on who is gifted to respond to the challenge we face at the moment. But isn't that how Jesus taught us to be, all of us brothers and sisters under one Teacher, one Father?

I shared most of this with someone who has been an elder here for many years, and also talked about the practical possibilities (and challenges) of shifting to a form of leadership closer to the one Jesus described and practiced. I'll try to write more about that later...