God and human authority

Homily on the readings for Oct. 27, Wednesday of the XXX week in OT, year II

Society has changed a lot since the times of St Paul. Part of the first reading today, like the one yesterday, can be interpreted as being offensive to many people and has a history of being used to support situations that today we recognize as objectionable (slavery in particular). But once again we have to go beyond our first impression and see what the Holy Spirit is telling us through this text.

We don’t have to look far; St Paul says that “each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does”, and that everyone has “a Master in heaven and that with him there is no partiality”. Legitimate authority is a responsibility received from God, and should be both exercised and obeyed in reference to God. We need to treat those above us in authority as well as those below us with honesty, respect and love, knowing that God is present in all those around us and works through the circumstances that surround us, be they good or bad. We are all accountable for our own actions before God, and will receive reward or punishment based on how we served God in our own particular situation.

Consequently, we should not judge our own merits or demerits by comparing ourselves to others. God certainly won’t. People whom we consider much better than ourselves might actually be worse off in the eyes of God, because they had more opportunities to do good and didn’t do as much as they could, whereas we might have been more generous in more difficult circumstances. It might also work the other way around. As Jesus says in the Gospel, some who are first will be last, and some of the last will be first.

Another consequence is that we should respect and obey legitimate human authority as long as it does not go against our religious or basic moral obligations. Laws that are merely annoying or bothersome still should command our obedience. Conversely, any authority we have – in our families, at work, or in the public sphere – should be exercised with a sense of responsibility, as a service to God and neighbor and not as power to be used for its own sake and our own pride and satisfaction.

Let us ask God our Father today to help us to grow in faith in the basic truth behind all of this: we live in God’s loving sight and presence. He is not an oppressive “Big Brother”, but our solicitous and loving – and at times rather demanding – Father who cares for us and also at times entrusts some of our brothers and sisters in Christ to our own attention as His proxy. May we be worthy to join those who “come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.”


About Matthew Green

I am a translator, origami artist/teacher, and photographer, a blogger, former philosophy professor, and I love to sing. You can see my photos on Flickr and buy prints of some of them on Fine Art America. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter (@mehjg), and in various and sundry other social media sites on the web.
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