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Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice

Sundays after Trinity (15)

Matthew 21.23-32
: "On whose authority ...?"

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing together

Have you had a clash with anyone in authority recently?


Do you feel ill at ease with any recent decision by the government that makes you want to challenge their authority?

What is the source of your ‘authority’ to do either of these?

Reflection on the text

“Who do you think you are, then?” the temple officials challenge Jesus. “What gives you the right to behave like this?” As both political and religious ‘policemen’, one of the roles of Chief Priests and Elders was to keep the peace in Israel, often very fragile, and to avoid any conflict or tension with the Roman authorities.

They confront Jesus just after he’d upset the tables of the sellers and money-changers in the Temple. Are they dealing with a troublemaker who should be confronted, preferably before the Romans become aware of him, or does he possess some legitimate authority they had to respect? There may have been resentment, too, if as custodians of the Temple, they’d benefited financially from what had been going on.

Jesus points out that his authority has to be seen in the light of their response to that of John, whose personal authority was believed to have come from God and whose role was to of to prepare the way for Jesus.

The parable of the two sons emphasises the question of obedience or lack of it. The first son is portrayed as obedient by his words but disobedient by his actions. He was doing what was expected by society at that time – pleasing his father. He represents the chief priests and elders who appear to follow God’s teaching, but their behaviour shows that they have rebelled against the teaching. They will be judged accordingly. The second son on the other hand, disobeys by his words, but then changes his mind and obeys by his actions. He represents the tax collectors and prostitutes. Their life style suggests that they have rejected God’s ways, but in responding to the message of John and Jesus, they would enter the Kingdom.

This encounter, and the story which follows it, are about the importance of integrity – and obedience to legitimate authority, ultimately the authority of God. Even those who have initially rejected God’s ways – however despised or unacceptable they may seem to us – can change their lives and be offered a place in the kingdom.

Application: some questions for group discussion:
  1. To what extent does authority that is given to someone have more credibility when what they do matches what they say?

  2. Within society and the church there are those who see themselves as charged to watch over us, to ensure that we behave or speak on message, and do not step out of line, or challenge the basic assumptions of what is right, or acceptable.
    • But from where does the prophetic voice come?
    • What is the source of authority in those who you regard as prophetic?

  3. How easy is it to challenge the status quo?
Praying Together

Pray for

  • those who exercise considerable authority, that they will deal with others showing respect and concern for their well-being.
  • those who feel the need to control others and ensure that they do not step out of line. That they may capture a fresh understanding of what it means to live in relationship with others where diversity and accommodation of view points can be valued.
  • for the prophetic voices in our society who challenge accepted norms, often at high cost to themselves.
  • for those whose life is one of humility and who, through the people they are, show something of God’s way.
More background information

Arrange to meet with someone in the local community who is seen to exercise authority over others: head-teacher, police officer, local MP or councillor, officer in the armed forces … and ask them to reflect on their experiences.

  • To what extent do they feel that their perceived authority has reduced in recent years?
  • How comfortable are they with carrying out their duties and responsibilities?
  • Are they ever uncomfortable with what others might expect of them?
  • To what extent are they being watched, in that people expect them to live their lives in such a way that what they say to others is matched by what they do themselves?

If you can identify a ‘counter-cultural’ voice in your community, arrange to meet with them also, and ask them the same questions.

Better still arrange a tripartite gathering between yourselves, those in authority and some counter-cultural voices to explore the understanding of authority.


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