If any judicial decision is too difficult for you to make between one kind of bloodshed and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another -- any such matters of dispute in your towns -- then you shall immediately go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose, where you shall consult with the levitical priests and the judge who is in office in those days; they shall announce to you the decision in the case. Carry out exactly the decision in the case.... -- Deut. 17:8-10
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed.... -- Romans 13:1-2
These readings for yesterday are both about obedience to human authority, either governmental or priestly. Both of these passages bother me. For one, priests -- or in my case, pastors -- disagree with each other at times about questions on faith/religion, even pastors in my Lutheran denomination. And for another, any human authority can be wrong, if not wickedly wrong and corrupt. The only authority that I feel I can absolutely trust is God's authority.
But where do I learn God's will? As a Christian, I rely on the example and teachings of Jesus to show me the way I need to go, and I rely on the real presence of God's Holy Spirit in my life. Whenever I read, hear, or see something, even something in other parts of Scripture, that runs contrary to Jesus' life and teachings then I think that way is wrong. Whenever I read, hear or see something that mirrors the teachings of Jesus, then I am confident that way is right.
Which is why these passages about human authority bother me. As far as governmental authority goes, Jesus says: Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. (Matt. 22:21). And as far as priestly authority goes, Jesus says: But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. (Matt. 23:8-10). These words tell me that my possessions (man-made and money-bought) belong to the world; they are transitory things that will pass on to someone else, or fade away. My heart, my mind, my body, and my soul, however, belong to God. Jesus teaches me to give my all to God, and to let no earthly authority lead me astray -- not government, not priest or pastor, not even family.
Coincidentally, driving to school yesterday afternoon to pick up my children, and listening to a CD on "The History of the Catholic Church" (The Teaching Company), I heard examples of this very thing. The next lecture on tap in this 33-lecture set, happened to be about the developments in Christianity in the 4th century. During this century, Christianity changed from being a state-persecuted religion whose leaders were mostly martyred, to being a state-sponsored religion whose leaders mostly shared the power and wealth of the state.
This was the time period when the things of Caesar and the things of God were rendered together and all power resided in a few human hands. This was the time when Christianity became militarized, called upon for success in battle by Constantine, though Jesus said, "love your enemies" and "whoever shall live by the sword shall die by the sword." This is the time when great cathedrals were beginning to be built (St. Peter's, St. Paul's Outside the Walls, the Church of the Nativity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), as well as palaces for clergy, from the offerings of the faithful, despite the fact that Jesus lived very simply and said, "you cannot serve God and wealth." And this is the time period when creeds were made and doctrine developed in an attempt to unify the great diversity of understanding among far flung Christians, but which serve more to distract Christians from the simple commandment of Jesus: love one another as I have loved you.
The coincidence of listening to this particular information on this particular day is not lost on me, which is why I have learned to trust in God's Holy Spirit. Human authority, both priestly and governmental, and especially when these are combined into one, has often led us pretty far astray from the life and teachings of Jesus, and has disqualified the working of the Holy Spirit. So, despite these passages in the Old and New Testament, I will continue to trust Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, whom I believe were, and are, sent by God to show us the way to him.
Dear and Wonderful God, thank you for guiding me in the steps you want me to go, for leading me to exactly what I needed and giving me the strength to carry on. Love always, Pam