Jesus: Authority and Leadership Exist for the Sake of Others

User’s Guide to Sunday, Nov. 5

Today’s Gospel gives four teachings on authority.
Today’s Gospel gives four teachings on authority. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Nov. 5, is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; Psalm 131:1, 2, 3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12.

Today’s Gospel gives four teachings on authority. Let’s review them.

Jesus says, “The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you but do not follow their example.”

In the future, Jesus will fully send forth his Church and establish the authority of the apostles themselves, but for now, they are to follow lawful authority, just as Jesus will expect the Church to follow the lawful authority of the apostles and their successors later on. Nowhere in Scripture are Christians encouraged to ridicule, resist or overthrow lawful authority.

Jesus does acknowledge the burdensome and insensitive qualities of the leadership of that time. He says, “Do not follow their example. For they preach but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders. But they will not lift a finger to move them.”

True authority exists to serve, not to crush or merely to exhibit its power. It exists to serve and unite people around a common purpose. It exists to help others to accomplish their tasks in a unified and directed way.

As the Gospel explains, “All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces and the salutation, ‘Rabbi.’”

The Lord points out the following problems with self-centered authority:

1. They care only about the praise that may increase their authority or build up their egos.

2. They want to be noticed as having a religiosity that hides their lack of service for God’s people.

3. They take the honor due those in authority personally, as directed to them, rather than directed to the office they hold.

4. A title is only good if the one bearing it does not disgrace it. Having a title is not so much an honor as a responsibility.

Leadership is not about trappings; it is about service and the glory of God. The text says, “Do not be called teacher (rabbi). You have but one teacher. Do not be called father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called master; have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus emphasizes four fundamental things.

1. All authority is under the headship of God.

2. All fatherhood, all headship, is submitted to the Father and Lord of us all and reflects his fatherhood. No one deserves the title “father” who does not first have God for his Father.

3. Authority exists for service. Jesus says this of those in authority: “The greatest among you must be your servant.” In other words, those who have authority are to serve those under them, not “lord it over them.” Authority is not for its own sake; it is for the sake of others.

4. Authority is exercised among equals. In this world, authority is equated with power; it is often given to those who are richer, more connected, and so forth. Some in authority may assume that they have authority because they are somehow better than others. Among Christians, however, authority is always exercised among equals.

Pray for those in authority. They will one day answer to God.

The Alabama State House, located in Montgomery, Alabama.

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