|The Memorial of St. Josephat
Psalm 82:3-4, 6-7
Each semester, students in my introductory anthropology class
learn about the relationship between social systems and the power of authority.
The smaller the society, the more limited the power of leaders. Leaders
in small societies lead more by example and cooperation than by force, as
is the case with kings over larger scale societies. The power
of force in a large scale society like a nation-state can be the precepts
of law or it can be violence. Students reflect on what this means in
the world today. Why do some leaders use violence to impose their wills?
Why do some leaders show great wisdom in seeking to further justice through
cooperation with the authority of laws? All of us who are students
of contemporary times will ask what role religion plays in the definition
and use of authority.
The first reading reminds us that those who have power over large scale societies
are under a rigorous scrutiny to recognize that their authority comes from
God and their power of force in the law. Leaders are to be instructed
in the holy precepts of God in order to make just decisions. The Psalmist
reminds us that leaders are called to bring justice to the poor, the afflicted,
the lowly, the fatherless, and the destitute.
What does this have to do with Jesus and his travels through the many diverse
cultural regions surrounding Jerusalem? First of all, Jesus was recognized
by the poor, the afflicted, lowly, the fatherless, and the destitute in the
area as one who had the power to heal. His reputation for identifying
with the poor and their problems was widespread. But the Gospel story
today reveals that not all of the people recognized that Jesus’ authority
over sickness and death was given to him by the Lord. Only one, in
fact, recognized the source of Jesus’ power. And this person was not
of the same culture as Jesus.
As I reflect on these lessons, I think of how important it is that we identify
leaders whose source of power is in the authority of God’s wisdom, regardless
of their cultural background. Jesus’ authority goes beyond that of
a geographic region or an ethnic group. It extends beyond the boundaries
of time and space. Jesus’ authority is based on the will of God.
Just as the Samaritan did not feel threatened in giving thanks to God for
the healing act of a stranger, so should we open our hearts to the possibility
of being healed by persons of authority who may be culturally different from
us. We should look for the authority in leaders to do justice that
comes from God, not from the authority of force.