In a week that has seen turmoil in places as distant as Venezuela and as near as the House of Commons in London it was a relief to see the orderly assembly of Cardinals and Bishops in Rome. All seemed to be under control. The chain of authority is understood.
In Venezuela there is a dictator in control. In London there is democracy hobbled by a strict interpretation of the people’s choice. In Rome there is no shortage of understanding of the problems of sexual abuse, the difficulty lies in implementing a solution which does justice to all those involved.
In each case difficult decisions are required. Usually people know what these decisions are, the problem is in their implementation! And it is at this point that ‘Authority’ comes into play. Who has it? Have they still got it? What is he/she going to do with it?
In most cases they do nothing – or rather continue to do what they have done in the past with some cosmetic alterations. But these situations will not wait any longer.
This abdication of authority is so unlike the One who gave it. “The powers that be are ordained by God” (Romans Chapter 13 verse 1). With the authority, God has given a manual – the Bible. It’s when a Leader, Nation or Church drifts away from the manual that difficulties occur.
The old negro spiritual, referring to Jesus, puts it well.
‘There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.’
In the Old Testament times there was no balm in Gilead. Only a remote Jehovah reflecting the situation we find ourselves in today. Then, with the coming of Jesus, healing now became a reality (Jeremiah Chapter 8 verse 22 and St Luke Chapter 17 verses 11 to 19). St Luke told the story of the healing of the ten lepers in the land of Gilead. It is told in the context of outcasts, cultural control, and nationalism all elements found in our present circumstances.
The risen Jesus used his authority to empower his disciples to make more disciples teaching them, amongst other things, to heal the guilty conscience by the forgiveness of sins (St Luke Chapter 24 verse 47).
For the wounded to be made whole there may need to be restitution St Luke Chapter 19 verse 8). Where this is not possible as in abuse cases where the law of the land has been broken, justice has to be done (Romans Chapter 13 verses 3 to 4).
Let us pray for the right exercising of authority by those who have been given it.