Saturday, 31 July 2010

Real authority

This week's Gospel is from Luke 12:13-21. It contains the parable of the rich man who said "'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.'" (Luk 12:17-18 RSV) but then when he finally can rest after his hard work God said to him "Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luk 12:20 RSV).

I have used this passage before to illustrate a tendency which we can find in society nowadays. It is the idea to work hard now and so we can enjoy ourselves later. While there is no problem with either of these attitudes, the practicality is that often this 'later' is becoming a perpetual tomorrow. But this tomorrow never comes, and today always means working hard so tomorrow I can enjoy my self. And even if tomorrow comes, suddenly there seems to be an emptiness. All the things gathered up do not seem to give any lasting enjoyment. It is an emptiness of hope, and emptiness of meaning, and there is a risk to grow old without ever finding the real meaning of our lives, a meaning which can only be found in our relationship with God.
However, what struck me while reading the text literally is that God says to the man "Fool, this night they (ἀπαιτοῦσιν) make a demand for your soul". While I don't know why 'they' is used I was thinking  about the non-wordly aspect of the while Gospel passage. If 'they' are the world, 'they' might have demanded the soul for themselves, have enslaved the soul to the world, and demanded it away from God. This can exactly result in a phenomenon as I tried to describe above, that suddenly everything can become meaningless. We become aware of our finitude, time is passing by, and there is no next. It is important therefore to not be drawn into the 'world' as such, as Jesus warn us "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." (Luk 12:15 NAS)

The beginning of the passage tells us about a man in the crowd who comes to Jesus to tell his brother to share the inheritance. The response form Jesus is "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?" (Luk 12:14 RSV). It is clear that Jesus does not want to get involved in this. But the very fact that the man comes to Jesus shows that he thinks Jesus has the authority to correct his brother.

But this is not the authority which it is about. The authority of Jesus has another source and another reason. It has nothing to do with earthly authority. This, clearly, shows towards the end of Jesus His life, when Jesus' followers expected Jesus to become a temporal King. This seems obvious in his glorious entrance into Jerusalem and the the inscription on the cross written by Pilate, "This is the King of the Jews." (Luk 23:38 RSV). 

But instead, Jesus' authority is more as it is expressed in "he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." (Mat 7:29 RSV). It is not a wordily authority, but an authority which flows from an intimate relationship with God. It is an authority as in more recent years we have witnessed by somebody as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And so, this should be our aim, to gain the real authority which comes forth from our relationship with God, not an authority of power. It touches something in our human beings which resonates and is recognized as true, this is an authority which goes much further than any authority of power.

So, I think the Gospel teaches us that we should not lose sight of the real important things. While earthly possessions are in itself not a bad thing, and are required to live, they should not become the center of our lives. It is important always to keep our eyes on the one important thing, which is God. A deep relationship with God will give meaning of life and gives us direction. Then, because of this closeness to God we become a witness to others about the reality of God, as there is a silent authority in somebody who genuinely follows our Lord... a light which shines out in the darkness, as a lighthouse which guides the ships safely to the harbor in stormy weather....


Sarah said...

I'm curious to hear what you think about this past Sunday's gospel....particularly the bit about the severe and the light beatings. I did some reflecting and this passage spoke to me in a new way. It seemed to be a parable of purgatory. Those who do wrong even if they don't know it cannot be immediatly with God...they need to be purified...but it will be a significantly shorter time of purifcation than those who know they are doing wrong....if those people even make it to purgatory....

What are your thougths?

Bro. Luuk Dominiek Jansen OP said...

A bit late now to reply but I have been away a good bit. I don't know if you will read it so I keep it short, but basically I agree.

Central is the conception of Truth, that there is a Truth and that it is not subjective, but objective, as Truth comes from God. Therefore it does not matter if somebody does something wrong because they know it is wrong and still do it, or do it out of ignorance, the wrong is still wrong.

So therefore there is purgatory, lets say, time to repent from our separation from God and to prepare ourselves to encounter God face to face, a time of purification to make us ready.

But here the element of copability is made very clear. If we act and do something which we know is wrong, we will receive much more lashes compared with somebody who does not know it is wrong.

There is also an element to justify this apart from the fact that wrong is wrong and right is right. Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and we have a natural inclination in our nature to know right from wrong, independent of the fact if we listen to our conscious. Every human being has a conscious.

Finally, we are responsible for informing our conscious to know better what is right and wrong.


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