The Authorities

Monday, December 3, 2012 — Week of 1 Advent, Year 1

Francis Xavier, Missionary to the Far East, 1552

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Note: Today we begin Year One in the Daily Office Lectionary. We will be using the readings on the left side (even numbered) pages starting in the Prayer Book on page 936


Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 936)

Psalm 1, 2, 3, (morning) // 4, 7 (evening)

Isaiah 1:10-20

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Luke 20:1-8

In today’s readings it seems like we have a snapshot of our contemporary situation in our own nation.

The authorities are stuck. They cannot give Jesus an answer to his question about John: “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” (20:3) If they answer honestly, they have to confront their own past, characterized by obstinance and poor judgment. They failed to recognize John as a prophet and they failed to respond to his word. They are too proud to admit their failure. But if they try to defend their past, they know what the polls say — they’ll face the public’s wrath.

It’s like asking politicians today, “Why is the deficit so large? Why is wealth concentrated in so few hands?” They aren’t going to say, “Because we restructured the tax code to favor the wealthy, and we let financiers operate without oversight so they could tank the economy, and we started two wars and never paid for them.” They also know that their political base won’t let them answer, “So, we’ll just raise the tax rates and remove the loopholes so it’s more like what it used to be.” They are stuck, and so are we.

Paul and Isaiah point toward a constructive way forward.

Paul praises the Thessalonian church because of their active faith, motivated by their love and their hope. Even though they have been a congregation under stress, they have been faithful and generous. Paul particularly appreciates this congregation in Thessaloniki because of their generosity. Paul uses the example of the Macedonian churches to prod the wealthy Corinthians to contribute more generously to Paul’s collection for the saints in Jerusalem. The poorer churches in Thessaloniki and elsewhere had contributed sacrificially. Much of Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians concern the common good and our responsibilities to our neighbors, and he encourages them to continue their generous care for others.

Isaiah is very direct. He pronounces judgment upon the nation in God’s name. He tells them that God expects them to “learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” (1:17) If the nation is to be healthy and saved, it must care for its vulnerable ones. Isaiah is not impressed with their religiosity. He demands justice — economic justice.

Over and over again the scriptures point us away from greed and economic exploitation and toward generosity and care for the marginalized. The scriptures urge us to organize our public life to pursue these virtues, and they warn us of tribulation if we do not.

Today in our gospel we have a confrontation between Jesus and the authorities. Jesus makes them see their hypocrisy. But the authorities were not moved. They did not change their ways. Instead, they sought to have Jesus eliminated. I can’t say I’m more encouraged by the authorities in our own day.

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