Living Under Authority

Saturday of Week 12 in Ordinary Time - Cycle I

Gen. 18: 1-15 & Mt. 8:5-11

The story of Abraham greeting three strangers who are out in the scorching noon heat of the desert has given endless interest to preachers and artists. Did the three strangers represent the Trinity they wonder.

Abraham’s hospitality is extremely generous. His guest tells him that next year he at the age of 99 will have a son. Sarah, who was well past the age of child bearing, was listening with amusement. The news made her laugh. The child born to them was Isaac and, through him, Abraham was to become the father of a great nation.

A centurion in the Roman army came to Jesus in today's Gospel seeking help for one of his sick servants. We find him respectful; twice he addresses Jesus as 'Sir.' He is humble, saying to the Lord, 'I am not worthy to have you under my roof.' He is compassionate, showing concern for one of his slaves which would not have been common at the time.

We could profitably consider any of these traits of his character but I want to focus of his understanding of authority. He expressed the conviction that Jesus could heal his servant by simply giving the command. It was not necessary for Him to be physically present. We have to marvel where he got such knowledge of Jesus' powers. He must have observed them for himself or been told what Jesus could do. Then he went on to explain his conviction of what Jesus could do and indicate the power of authority. 'I am a man under authority myself, and I have soldiers assigned to me. If I tell one man to go, he goes. If I tell another man to come, he comes.'

This centurion was a man of remarkable insight. He understood the two sides of authority - submission to it and exercise of it. We are all involved in both. Jesus could exercise the power of God because He lived in submission to the authority of God. The centurion could give directives and expect them to be obeyed because he, himself, was under the authority of Rome. Those two factors are also functioning in your life and mine.

We all have some aspects of authority in which we call the shots, make the decisions, exercise the vetoes. Life thrusts that upon us. It may not be very large, perhaps just our own heart and our own home. For parents it may be primarily their children. For the teacher, it is the classroom, their students. For executives, it includes their business and employees. How we handle the authority depends upon our own submission to authority.

It can be a frightening thing for parents to realise that they are in charge of a young life. Most of the final decisions belong to parents. That is an awesome responsibility. There is nothing that I can say to make your job any easier. But I can say that if you, yourself, are under the authority of Christ, if your life is ruled by His principles of love, fairness, kindness, patience, openness, truth and understanding, then you can exercise your authority with confidence. You will do a good job and in the end your children, we hope, will grow to respect and not resent you.

Lord Jesus let us realise that the proper exercise of authority always depends upon our submission to authority. If we gladly serve the Lord, when we exercise authority, we too will be ready to serve others.