“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
In Chapter 2 of his 1964 Little Red Book Mao Tse-Tung wrote, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” On June 5, 1989 near the north side of Tienanmen Square a single man walked into the path of a column of tanks. When the tank stopped the man climbed up to talk with the soldiers inside the tank and then came down and resumed his position. He was finally pulled aside by a group of people and disappeared into the crowd. Not far away from where that brave man stood, over the entrance to the Imperial Palace, is a huge portrait of Mao. The massacre of the Tienanmen protestors had happened the day before, but that lone man’s action in protest is an enduring sign of the authority of love, the authority of resistance to the politics of force.
In some ways Mao was right; in the world of sin political power depends on force and the will to use force. But in the kingdom of God force yields to the spiritual authority of God’s love shown us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, known to us by his Holy Spirit.
We live in the world of sin and in the kingdom of God. In both we live under authority, and we exercise authority – over ourselves and in our relationships. Our first experiences with authority come when as small children we come to know love, and we come to know fear. We are small, and the people around us are big – and powerful. We know they can hurt us. And we also know that when we hurt ourselves these people are there to comfort and heal us. “Mommy kiss the booboo and make it well.”
We learn that the food we are given, the warm house, the soft bed, the changed diaper, even the warm bath, are all signs of the love which surrounds us. But we have to be taught the signs of love. Our naturally self-centeredness feels entitled to these. And the flip side of self-centeredness is our feeling of total responsible for everything that happens, particularly bad things. Our little egos come to believe that we somehow earn love – by good behavior or in lots of other ways.
The commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” given at Sinai, is fundamental to all who share that covenant. It is a spiritual correction for our egos. The commandments express God’s will for the world her has created. God created a world where he is loved and honored, where we don’t give things of this world in God’s place in our hearts and lives, where God’s name is honored, where we remember God has created us and the world and keep his Sabbath holy, where parents and those in authority receive the respect due them, and where all people are secure in their lives, in their property, in their relationships, in their reputations, and where we are not consumed with envy and covetousness, where we are not continually obsessed with wanting other peoples’ stuff.
“Honor thy father and thy mother;” parents love your children. God creates with natural love for our children. Parents get to mediate to their children God’s perfect and unconditional love. We do it imperfectly; our parents imperfectly mediated God’s love to us, but we all want to do better than we were done for. One of God’s gifts to grandparents is another opportunity to share God’s unconditional love for children.
The fear we learn as children remains in us. The theological term is servile fear. Servile fear has some benefits in this sinful world. It helps us stay out of some bad situations. Why do we slow down when we see a police car? Partly for fear of a ticket. But we drive the speed limit or close to it not only for fear of police or of an accident, but also because we want to share the road safely with the other drivers. We offer them the respect we want to receive from them. That is the fear the Bible calls the fear of the Lord – not servile fear of punishment, but respect and love.
Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the whole world has set us free from servile fear of God’s punishment for our sins. We sometimes have to suffer the natural consequences of these sins in this life, but God forgives us punishment in his kingdom, in this life and the life to come. And because we are forgiven sinners we have both the duty and the power to forgive those who sin against us.
And because we share in the resurrected body of Christ we share in that respect and love we know as the fear of the Lord.
I don’t know whether the man who stood in front of the tanks over 25 years ago was a Christian. The chances are about 1 in 25 that he was. But he transcended his servile fear and showed forth the divine authority of love, the authority Jesus showed in the synagogue, the authority he shares with us.
Jesus drives out our unclean spirits, the spirits of hate, and fear, and unreasoning force. Jesus has filled us with his Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, and godly power, and love. Thanks be to God! Amen.