A Man Under Authority
“For I too am a man under authority…” (Matthew 8: 9a)
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart….” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago)
“And they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13)
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34)
We mill among the crowd who shouted, “Crucify Him!” Perhaps we joined in the cry. We were the same ones who hailed this Jesus just a few days before as “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” But now….
What has become of us? We lose our humanity to the crowd. We burn and destroy and kill — and we celebrate our own destruction. We moderns believe we are different — more advanced or better than those who came before. Are we? Do we differ from those who called out to crucify Jesus? Did we cheer as Gladiators butchered Christians, sent them to the lions or burned them as living torches on the Appian Way? Would we seek to hang the “witches” in Salem in 1692? Are we among the French masses who cried “Guillotine” during the 1793 Reign of Terror?
We did, we would and we are. We condemn the person who dares speak any simple truth today. “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” We will bankrupt his business. “There are only two sexes, male and female.” We will destroy her reputation, strip her of any ability to work and drive her from all social discourse. “Abortion takes the life of a child.” We will silence them! Crucify him! Guillotine her! They are evil to say such things! “Disagree with me and I will burn your home and your nation to the ground.”
The crowd will have its way. No reason, no logic, no appeal to reality will stop it. Moreover, we face the greatest temptation. Just as the disciples of Christ fled at His arrest and just as Peter denied Jesus three times, it is all too easy to go along or to melt away under the constant pressure. But we must not give in. We must stand firm and cling to the truth of life and this real world; to the one truth, the Truth who is still with us and under whose authority we live.
Here we arrive at authority. The crowds reject the authority of reality, of teaching, of parents, of truth itself, and seek their release in a rage of pure emotion. A direct and inevitable line runs from the rejection of authority right to irrationality and insanity. The rejection of authority is not a bold step toward an independent mind, but a dodge to escape the responsibility of thinking fully, of the fulfillment of our human purpose, of life itself. I know because I have trodden that road and mapped it well. That pathway lead me to despair of any goodness in men or even within myself. Even after the Lord called me back from my own dark night, I still wanted to bargain with Him to keep my own independence. Yet that desire is not right.
I am a Roman Catholic because I tired of angling, bargaining and warring for my own
way. Because I realized that if I kept denying God’s absolute authority, I would never find peace within me. I realized — just like the Centurion who sought Jesus out to heal his servant — that my greatest gift is, “I too am a man under authority.”
We each are in a war; one which sets good against evil within our hearts; one which is all about and only about authority. Each of us has his or her own individual weakness which draws
us to some sin of our own. But all sin and every sin reflects back to that first lie: “You can be like God…” We believed the lie and we still do. We question God’s authority to place us in a garden of beauty with gifts beyond measure. Questioning, we buy waste and separation, loss and death. Our own answers cannot suffice for we “know not what we do.” We didn’t from the very beginning.
As long as we believe we are gods, our focus remains inward and we reject anyone who might challenge our self imposed authority and isolation. We die every day, giving up our true humanity piece by piece until there is nothing left of God’s image within us. This is the corpse which is reanimated and breathes within the crowd. The non-human lust to reject God and to seize our own way thrusts us outside ourselves. We find unity in complete alienation while tromping in the mob. We lose true humanity because the mob subsumes all within us that is human.
I thought a few months ago that we might answer the inhuman rage and destruction going on in our cities by mounting a greater show of love. Answer a thousand protesters for hate with ten thousand demonstrating love. But we cannot trust ourselves to do so. Our normal impulse when threatened or struck is to strike back. The Civil Rights marchers in the 1960s were given intensive training in how to demonstrate with peaceful resistance. They had to be trained not to strike back. Likewise, the police forces must resist the natural desire to respond and have been trained to keep their emotions in check. If we tried a counter protest for love, we might forebear the insults and attacks, but I fear we have fallen too far from our own lived experience of forgiveness and forbearance. “Father, forgive them…”
Our nation seems trapped in a downward spiral of alienation, isolation, destruction and death. We are in the midst of the crowds seeking death in so many ways, calling out to “Crucify Him!” Death stalks our nation, community, family and our very lives.
So how do we live? By looking beyond life and even beyond death to something — that is, to Someone — greater than both. “Do not fear, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33) We live fully and truly only by focusing outside ourselves toward a constant which cannot change, and which is not subject to our whims or views or imaginings or dreams. In Jesus we find light and life, breath and beauty and the transformative power of love. “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4. 29)
In our desperate search we seek life and purpose. Yet unless we accept the authority and the vision of Jesus, we will seek in growing darkness and in vain. Come and see. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1: 4)
Joseph Stringer writes and speaks on Christian issues in culture in the hope that we may realize transformation in our lives. Watch for his upcoming book, “God Came Down.” He prays that all who hear him or read his works might see through them to the One who has chosen us for life. Check out his blog at www.chosen4life.org