Which Authority?

I get inspiration in strange places.  Does anybody remember Barney Fife, the skinny little guy with the big adam’s apple on The Andy Griffith Show? Barney was the deputy sheriff in the slow-paced, sleepy southern community of Mayberry, North Carolina.  In one episode some tough criminals being returned to prison had to stay overnight in the jail and Barney was freaking out with fear and excitement.  He began pacing back and forth in front of the jail cell like a drill sergeant as he yelled, “Here at the rock we run a tight ship, authority is respected, and we have many rules.  Rule number one:  obey all rules!”

That crazy memory got me thinking about how authority is addressed in the Bible.  As with most words, authority has a range of meanings, each with its own connotations.  It can mean the power to give orders.  It can mean respect for someone with much knowledge in a specific area.  It can mean a powerful personal attraction that others simply can not ignore.  Such a variety of definitions is frequently the cause of miscommunication. 

In the Bible, recalling their 40 years in the wilderness, people of God, from Moses to Jesus, traditionally go into the wilderness to find rejuvenation, their calling, and authority.  Our two texts from I Kings and Luke tell the stories of Elijah and John the Baptist doing just that.  Unlike Barney Fife, they didn’t have to demand obedience to such authority.  They just have it. 

In this Advent season, may the Word of God, which came to Elijah and John in the wilderness, also come to us in our private wilderness and then send us out to serve with renewed strength and authority.

—Paul