Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Holy Tuesday Redux

I wrote last night that I missed hearing a homily from someone who had prayed with the readings and could speak to them. The Gospel reading just didn't seem as significant as one I would wish in Holy Week.

Thanks to an occasional correspondent from the HoBD list, I got my homily this morning. He sent me what Lowell Grisham, a priest in Arkansas, wrote on his daily blog in a homily called "By What Authority?" You may recall Tuesday's reading (Mark 11:27-33):
27Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 29Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” 31They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 33So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
In his reflection, Lowell begins by reminding us of Monday's reading (Jesus' "cleansing of the temple") which immediately precedes this one. And here's his take on it:

Jesus has attacked the Temple in the name of God. He has reasserted the ancient prophetic vision that the Temple be a house of prayer for all people. He has turned out the established system of sacrifices, with the profitable business of exchanging unclean for clean, claiming, again in God's name, that they had turned the Temple into a den of robbers. By what authority? That's the questions the authorities have.

From their perspective, they know where their authority comes.

First, they know that their authority comes from scripture, and from their traditional interpretation of the Bible. All of the business about unclean and clean animals comes from the scripture. The entire sacrificial system for righting wrong is spelled out in detail in the Bible. The prohibition against common Roman coinage is a defense of the first commandment against graven images. Caesar claims to be divine, the Son of God. It would be blasphemy to bring his image into the holy Temple. These religious authorities know their Bible. They quote it and enforce it with energetic intention, believing in their hearts that they are defending God.

Second, they know that they have the authority of recognition from the acknowledged establishments of religion and state. The Temple is given permission by the Roman governor to carry out its religious practice. The ordering of the Temple has oversight from the religious authorities. This is the traditional, structured way that this people has carried out its corporate religious practice for centuries. It is established tradition.

Scripture and established tradition -- that's where the authority comes from for the Temple magistrates.

But who is this Galilean rebel and where does he get the gumption to walk in here and nearly start a riot, attacking the established foundations of the Temple? They ask him to declare his grounds: "By what authority are you doing these things?"

Jesus could have answered them. He could have said, "By the authority of God." But they would have answered back, we have God's authority; who do you think you are? We are the recognized, established authorities of God.

Jesus could have said, "Because of what is written in the Scriptures." He could have continued to quote the prophets and declare God's intention that the Temple be radically open and inclusive -- a house of prayer for all people. He could have quoted from all of the stories and psalms and prophets about God's preferential regard for the poor. But they would have answered back, shooting Bible bullets to reference and defend every practice that Jesus attacks.

There's no talking with them. It won't help. Some folks won't be budged. Not if they've got Bible and tradition behind them.

So Jesus asks them a trick question. What about John the Baptist? Of course, they didn't like him either. But the people did. The people loved him and thought he was a prophet. They were afraid. Either they were afraid to risk the scorn and unpopularity of the crowd. Or they were afraid to admit an uncomfortable truth that didn't fit with their comfortable traditions.

So they didn't answer Jesus. They quit talking. They quit listening. They weren't going to change. It was too costly. It would cost them the entire system they had been living for. It would cost them the comfort of knowing they were right, the comfort of a belief that had been, well, comfortable. It would cost them their security, because their money came from their system of belief. It was too far to go. So they abandoned the uncomfortable consideration of uncomfortable truths. They quit talking; they quit listening; they started plotting how they could undermine this troublemaker, if necessary, with violence.

Every social movement that has challenged the established privileges has met the same kind [of] resistance. Every economic reform that has challenged the established interests has met the same kind of resistance. Every new discovery that has broken with the conventional paradigm has met the same kind of resistance.

It's almost impossible to attack entrenched power straight-on. It must be undermined. Usually its destructive power has to be brought out into the open where everyone can see its brokenness. But that means victims. Dogs on the bridge at Selma. Witches drowned and gay people burned (fagged). Union organizers busted. Sick people without access to medicine letting their suffering be filmed on TV. Illegal pictures of body bags. Homeless people in your face. A gay bishop who isn't invited to Lambeth.

"By what authority?" the authorities demand, as they shut down and shut up the uncomfortable ones.

Most of the time now, the answer from the challengers is, "Jesus." By the authority of Jesus. By his example of compassion and healing and forgiveness and generosity and love. By the authority of Jesus the victims confront the abusive and violent. He's tipped the scales forever.
Amen and amen.

Back during GC06, I subscribed to Lowell's daily postings. Now, his Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. I encourage you to check out his blog.

Now … I'm really trying not to get sucked back into Battlestar Anglicana. I'm still eschewing – at least through this Holy Week – those sites that focus on the sturm und drang of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

But when Lowell Grisham puts yesterday's "By what authority …?" gospel story this way, it is impossible for me not to see the parallel between what the religious leaders did to Jesus and what the self-righteous rejectionists today are doing to many of us in the Episcopal Church.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one of those, quiet revolutionists, I have to admit that while I am doing the what I can to get these midwestern traditionalists to think outside the box and outside their comfort zone, I have the fear that I will be burned at the stake for being a heretic. There are so many hoops and unseen traps that have been set in place that I know "the powers that be" will find a way to make something that could be a wonderful experience with our Maundy Thursday Seder/Eucharist into something so ugly and unnatural. I can hear it now, "We aren't Jewish, we don't have to follow the traditions", instead of putting themselves into the "upper room", being there with our Lord observing the same traditions and stories that were told the night of his betrayal, transitioning from old to new commandments, and really knowing that the cup he offered to his disciples was by tradition the cup of hope in anticipation of the Messiah, showing that Messiah was finally in thier midst. Lets face it the priests that condemed our Lord were those who practiced the tradtional way while Jesus was the revolutionary. I would rather walk in Jesus footsteps and dust off the cobwebs of "its the way its always been done" than lapse into the coma of religious complacency and comfort.

3/20/2008 8:53 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Is that you, R? If so, remember I've got your back and will be there with you tonight.

Richard Wilbur wrote,
It takes a sky blue juggler
with five bouncing balls
to shake up our gravity.

[At least that's my memory of the lines.]

You're not a heretic, but you may be a skyblue juggler. ;-)

3/20/2008 9:17 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen. Skyblue juggler indeed!

3/21/2008 8:30 PM  

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