Tuesday, September 23, 2008

By whose authority?

Matthew 21:23-32

By whose authority? I get asked this question a lot while I'm on street retreat, while I'm working at the church, by people who wonder why I'm in the men's bathroom, or who wonder how I can wear a clergy collar and have breasts. The easy flip answer is that nothing I can do can ever separate me from the love of God(dess) and I am called to sin boldly.

But underneath that flip answer is probably the much more honest, much more human: "by my own authority."

It would of course be more fun to say with solid certainty that I am acting on God(dess)'s authority. But I can't. Yes, I know it's ironic that it is my full time job it to share the word of God(dess) and to admit that I can never be sure that I know the word of God(dess).

This is not lack of faith, rather it is a constant wrestling and yearning to continually ask myself if my actions follow the will of God(dess). This acknowledges that God(dess) may call me to do something for God(dess)'s sake that seems to go against the written word of God(dess). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer discovered, when he found himself called to participate in a plot to assasinate Hitler, despite knowing that it was against God(dess)'s commandments to kill.

It may seem unusual to some that Jesus tells the faithful that the tax collectors (known for being violent and often unfair) and the prostitutes (who persuade people to covet and commit adultery) will go ahead of them in heaven. In fact, Jesus says that the sex workers will be first in heaven more than any other group. Perhaps this is because those who are the most vulnerable and stand in the widest intersections of oppression tend to have God(dess) in their gut in a way that others can never truly understand.

This is why the Exodus texts talk about the vulnerability of the wilderness. If the only stable thing you have in your life is God(dess), or you really are praying mightily each day for your daily wage, daily bread or daily water - then you get faith in a different way. It's not better, it's just more from the gut and less from the brain or book of confessions.

This may explain why Jesus never answers the question. How can someone living from their gut, answer from their head. If you know deeply in your bones that you are called by God(dess) to do something, or when working for justice seems so clear that you could do no other, why would you stop to bother to answer questions of authority.

By whose authority? How could you ask such a question when it is so clear that people deserve homes and food and water and a name and dignity and hope and life.

Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +20

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