Today’s readings reflect on the question and content of authority. In the Hebrew Scripture (1 SM 8:4-7, 10-22) the elders of Israel come to Samuel in his old age and insist that they need a king to rule – as is the case in other nations. Samuel points out what that might mean in terms of the authority a king would have over the people that would change life as they know it, but they continue to insist. God tells Samuel to give them what they want and learn by experience what it means. In the gospel (MK 2:1-12), when Jesus heals a paralytic by saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” the scribes grumble about where he gets the authority to talk that way. Jesus, knowing his own authority and that it comes from God, asks whether it is easier to tell the man his sins are forgiven (indicating, I think, a deeper healing) or to get up and walk. As with Samuel, Jesus then says to the man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat and go home.” When he did, the people “were all astounded and glorified God.”
The question of how people view authority and where true power really lies led me from those readings to the psalm refrain (PS 89:16-19). In both traditional and modern language, the seat of power seems to rest in the balance between the light of love and justice. Here are three translations.
Blessed are the people who know the joyful shout; in the light of your countenance, O Lord, they walk. At your name they rejoice all the day, and through your justice they are exalted. For you are the splendor of their strength, and by your favor our horn is exalted. For to the Lord belongs our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel, our King.
Your guiding hands, your strengthening arms embrace us and draw us in and place us everywhere in right relationship to all: to truth and love and justice done, their one true source your face, your throne. And all who seek that face shall shout in festive praise. They walk and your abiding faithfulness lights up their way; their feet keep balance on the path of right towards you.
Blessed are those who know your Love, who walk in the Light of your countenance! Blessed are those who call upon your Name and extol truth and justice! For You are the glory of their strength; You give wise counsel. Our very lives belong to You, O Loving Companion Presence.
To all of this I would add for our world today that those are blessed who are able to look deeply – past any “politically correct” rhetoric – to discern the heart of where true authority lies in others but also in ourselves. And blessed are we when we act from that deeper place regardless of the favor or criticism that may arise as a result.