The “Anarchy” of the Kingdom

by Rev. Kevin Daugherty

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” — Jesus

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

First Reading: Micah 3:5-12
Psalm: Psalm 43
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Every single week, I can turn on the news and hear about some leader who has been disgraced due to their mistakes. If you go to Google, and do a news article search for terms such as “pastor” or “politician”, there are a million recent articles of people in such positions getting in trouble for some level of hypocrisy or corruption. There really is nothing new under the sun. People in positions of authority are sinners just like everyone else, and those sins can be disastrous. This is a problem that the people in the Bible knew well.

When it comes to this problem, it is usually the prophets who we see bring light to these issues. The prophets were preachers who were often outside of the temple establishment. They had the ability to be on the margin of the royal and temple courts so that they could speak truth to power. It is this proclamation of truth to corrupt persons in authority that we see today in our passages from Micah and Matthew.

The latter portion of the Scripture from Micah says:

Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,
    you rulers of Israel,
who despise justice
    and distort all that is right;
who build Zion with bloodshed,
    and Jerusalem with wickedness.
Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
    “Is not the Lord among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
Therefore because of you,
    Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
    the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

— Micah 3:9-12

Notice the corruption that the Lord criticizes through his prophet Micah. First, political leaders and rulers are criticized for distorting justice in society. Second, priests and prophets are criticized for using religion as a means to making money. As seems to be the typical case, these people were arrogant. They thought that their authority and wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, and that God would not allow anything bad to happen to them. However, Micah prophesies otherwise to them. No, disaster will come their way. God’s judgment is coming. They will be cast down.

Jesus gives a similar warning to the religious leaders of his day. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees were deeply concerned about power and appearances, according to this passage in the gospel. They wanted to be recognized as the religious authorities. They loved their special religious clothes, titles, and public influence. Like the priests and prophets in Micah’s day, they were far more interested in their privileged status.

Jesus gives a message to them that reminds me of Micah’s. Where Micah warns about a coming destruction of the establishment that has benefited these corrupt leaders, Jesus warns about an entirely new age — the age of the Kingdom. Jesus gives a bit of a description of this Kingdom:

 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

— Matthew 23:8-12

We are all brothers and sisters, according to Jesus. We are equals, and no human can truly be an authority over another. We have one Teacher, one Father, and one Instructor. God is the one true authority, and all others are illegitimate and corrupt at the root of it. Which makes complete sense if you believe in the Christian teaching that all of us are sinners. God is the one sinless authority.

In this teaching right here, in this challenging of the human authorities in both of these passages, we see a type of “anarchy”. I know that that term is loaded, but it really does apply here. In its most basic sense, “anarchy” means to be without rulers. Here, God is seen as tearing down our rulers. In these passages, God is the only true master and ruler, and he is going to tear down the corrupt substitutes.

Jesus gives us a very interesting and powerful message here:

 The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

In the Kingdom of God, it is the last that are made first. Those who do lead in the Kingdom do not lead as a the world understands leadership. It is through servant-leadership. It is through example and service rather than commandment. In addition, the world’s privileged classes will be overturned. Compare this teaching from today’s gospel portion to some of these others:

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children (Matthew 11:25).

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53).

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders (1 Corinthians 3:18-21)!

The humble and powerful, rich and poor, weak and strong, foolish and wise, and the first and last are all swapped in the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom is a revolutionary movement. It overthrows our standards of class and status.

This message is not just a future message for a coming age, either. Jesus and his apostles lived this out. It is the poor carpenter who is the Messiah, not Herod, the “king of the Jews”. It is the ignorant fisherman who is the leader of the apostles, not the educated rabbi. It is women who uncover the resurrection and become the first evangelists, not the men. It is the tax collectors and sinners who proclaim Jesus as Lord, not the religious establishment. I could go on, as Scripture is full of the same theme in both testaments.

As you go about this week, consider how you can be a servant to others, and strive for that rather than authority.