What do we mean by authority? Who has it? Why do they have it?
These are key questions for our time as we live in a pandemic. There is so much fake news around that we need to know who is giving us information. When it comes to vaccine safety do we listen to Kevin the Keyboard Warrior or Chrissie that we meet in the Co-op. The people tell us that Covid19 is fake and the hospitals are empty. Or do we listen to the scientists and doctors who are working in labs and hospitals? Who has the authority to help us make decisions that can have a huge impact on our lives and the lives of others?
Thanks to the Downing Street News Briefings, we now know the names of some of our top scientists and epidemiologists. The people who spend all day in labs and in front of students are now in front of the nation. The authority they have is twofold. They have positional authority because of the roles they have and they have relational authority because of what they do.
An example is Chris Whitty the UK’sChief Medical Officer. He has a role because he has studied medicine. If you are sick you go to a doctor.
We all know some professionals who know lots of stuff yet are actually not that much good in the day to day work. In my own field of vicaring I have priest friends who are fabulous theologians yet are seriously out of practice in doing funerals. At a funeral you need someone who cares not a clever sermon.
In the case of Chris Whitty we found out in the news that he has been volunteering in a North London respiratory ward. He has relational authority because of what he does. He has seen the effects of the pandemic on people with serious Covid infections first hand and not just in statistics.
Anyone in leadership has both types of authority. Those in leadership know that they have to use them wisely. I can insist that something is done because I’m the vicar and the buck stops with me. Mostly that is not the best way to use authority. A better way is to show what can be done, listen to people and work together. This is what Joe Biden meant in his inauguration speech when he said ‘we’ll lead not merely by the example of our power, but the power of our example.’ Leaders need to do as well as be.
In our reading from the gospel today, a story from the beginning of Mark’s gospel we hear that Jesus has authority based on who he is. No one in the synagogue that day has any inkling that the one who is teaching the scripture is the one who was present at the making of the world but the demons who are present in an afflicted man do. Jesus has positional authority because of who he is, the son of God and the second person in the trinity. But he also has authority in what he does – he heals the man and continues to heal and teach and practice compassion and love throughout his ministry.
As we make decisions about the pandemic can we think about where we get our information from – scientists or keyboard warriors.
As we make our decisions about faith can we go back to the person of Jesus because of who he is and does? A person of goodness, love and healing.