25 September 2011

"Jesus said to [the chief priests and the elders], 'Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.'" (v. 31)


Being appointed by due process to a position of authority in an organisation is one thing. Authoritatively discerning the life-transforming action of God in the world is something quite different. Seeing God's presence is a gift open to anyone whom God chooses for such a ministry. In practice God often empowers the least likely people not only to see but also to respond to God's presence and call. Some may be disreputable; many will be without formal training or constitutional power to throw around; a few may have been excluded from mainstream society.

John's baptisms in the river Jordan (see Matthew 3) had controversially launched a reform movement in Israel. Not least because John had no formal authority as a religious teacher. Ordinary people said that John was God's prophet. Remarkably, and very obviously, tax collectors and prostitutes (who were generally shunned, especially by the religious leaders) were converted through John's ministry: they discerned God's will, obeyed and lived good lives.

Obedience is about what people do rather than what they say. We see the impact of God's word in changed lives: 'By their fruits we know them'. But the religious leaders were spiritually blind on all counts. In spite of the evidence, they refused to endorse John. Rather they kept their distance and criticised him.

Jesus emerged out of the reform movement pioneered by John. His authority was like John's. You couldn't determine it by asking for a certificate or other credentials. You could see it, if you were gifted that way, by the effect Jesus had on people's lives. But if you were concerned about your social prestige and self-importance, you remained blind, suspicious of Jesus and negative about him.

To Ponder

What must I do to grow as an authentic witness to Jesus? More biblical knowledge? Regular worship and prayer? Living a good life, in the Christian sense?

'Let leaders lead' is often heard in the Church; but also treated with caution. Where and how is God's will discerned in your congregation?

In debates about contemporary democracy in Britain (eg accountability of MPs; localism; the Big Society), what is your experience of voluntary groups helping to establish justice and peace in your community?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks

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