Who’s in Charge Here?

Friday, February 14, 2014 – Week of 5 Epiphany, Year Two

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

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 88 (morning) // 91, 92 (evening)

Genesis 27:46-28:4, 10-22

Romans 13:1-14

John 8:33-47

There’s nothing like the Olympics to bring out a surge of patriotism in me. The high-water mark of my Olympics-inspired pride was probably the 1996 women’s team gymnastics final, when the gold-winning American team was racially diverse and included recent immigrants to the U.S. This year, I haven’t watched much of the games, but I have gotten a few glimpses of people lifting up the ideals of inclusion and opportunity that are precious to me as an American.

I have also been touched and shaken by the many people using the Olympic stage to protest the powers in every nation state that pollute, destroy, and dehumanize. The struggle against “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (BCP p. 302) is also part of the Olympic spirit.

Yet today’s second reading doesn’t seem to give much warrant to resisting and contending with “the governing authorities” in our world. In fact, several verses from this passage have been used to support capital punishment, for the government is “the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” Other verses endorse mass taxation, viewing revenue from citizens as a debt that they owe to society: “Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

Of course, other passages of Scripture are much more skeptical of the ability of governing authorities to ensure retributive or distributive justice. From the Pharaoh to Herod to Pilate, the governing authorities sanction work for no pay, tolerate hunger, and execute the blameless.

Thus, our spiritual task is neither to blindly obey nor to reflexively resist every form of worldly power. Rather, our spiritual struggle is to hold our governing authorities accountable to the standards set forth in our second reading. This passage claims that the governing authority “is God’s servant for your good.”

The so-called “powers” that govern so much of our lives are ultimately nothing but servants dependent on God and beholden to God’s people. They exist to do us good. How easy it is for these powers to forget their purpose . . . and for people to underestimate their own power. Today, through a mixture of prayer, of protest and defiance, and of peaceable compliance, we can cooperate with the Spirit that bends the world’s governing authorities into service of the common good.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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