So, You Want Some Respect?
That's when we all turn to Bob, my brother-in-law. Bob's father's business was growing wine grapes, so Bob was raised around wine. He knows something about wine. Bob is an expert on what wine is good and not so good, and what wine goes with what dish. When it comes to wine, Bob enjoys the authority of expertise, so we listen to him when it comes to picking wines.
We listen to our insurance agent about what insurance we need, to our stock broker about what shares to buy, and to our doctor about what prescription to take. It's the authority of expertise.
Note again, though, what the Father does not say here at the Transfiguration. He does not say, "This is my son, a very wise teacher. An expert in moral theology. Listen to him!" To be sure, Jesus is wise, and I think we can safely say he was an expert in moral theology. But none of that comes into play in this climactic moment when God is trying to demonstrate the authority of Jesus. He just says, "This is the one whom I love, so listen to him."
Finally, we have one of our favorite methods of exerting authority: psychological manipulation. This happens in families a lot.
I'll tell my children, "For Mother's Day, I'm thinking your mother would really like someone to take her to the flower show."
There's a part of me that is just trying to be helpful—giving a suggestion for ways my children can honor their mother. And there's a part of me that wants to see my wife have a good time on Mother's Day. But there's a large part of me that just doesn't want to take her to a flower show myself, and I know that if I play this card right, my kids will be guilted into it!
This works more insidiously sometimes. We see it in the empty-nest mother who is so easily hurt if her children fail to call on Sunday, and so the main reason they call every Sunday is so they won't have to hear their mother complain about how her kids have forgotten her. We see it in the man who manipulates his wife into taking his dream vacation, which she finds boring, because as he so often reminds her, he works so hard and so sacrificially for the family and sighs about it all the time. It happens whenever we clearly communicate that our feelings will be hurt or that we'll be angry if we don't get our way. Power by psychological manipulation.
I've been in Christian circles where this is the preferred method for instilling obedience to God. We say, "God doesn't hate us when we sin, but he's just so sad and hurt when we do." Or, "We need to give our lives to Jesus because, well, look at all he's done for us. My gosh, he died for us!" And so on.
But once more, we have to note what the Father does not say at the Transfiguration. He does not say, "This is my beloved Son, and I'll be hurt and sad and maybe even angry if you don't listen to him!"
As we engage our callings, whatever they might be, we'll be tempted time and again to ground our authority in one of these three ways.
My encounter with Stanley serves as an example of grasping for delegated authority. As I said, sometimes tough talk is also love talk, but I can assure you that at the time I was not motivated by love. I was basically telling Stanley that I was the pastor, the one called by God and that congregation to that position. I was a person to be reckoned with because of that calling. Stanley needed to listen to me!
We tend to pull this card a lot because, well, it works. And when it works, we tend to feel pretty proud of ourselves. But I think we should feel something different at such moments: a little disappointment. When we have to exert the authority of our office or calling it's a signal that something has gone wrong. Hardness of heart has won the day again, and brute force is the only way to counter it. While it "works," we should feel as ambiguous as does the victor in a just war—glad that a wrong has been righted, but so very sad at what had to happen to make things right.
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
- What God May Be Up to In the Land of the Bible
- Christian Athletes Are Not Role Models
- On the Death—and Life—of Innocent Children
- Closer than Ever to the Breath of God
- Making Non-Sense of the Colorado Shootings