Franciscan Spirit Blog

Lent with Richard Rohr: All Controversies Can Be Resolved by an Appeal to Authority

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent | Readings: Jeremiah 11:18-20, John 7:40-53


The noose tightens as we come into the final weeks of Lent. As people become more afraid and insecure, they do not know how to access their own soul, move to prayer, or toward their better instincts. At that point, the easy and comforting response is to quote some Scripture, some authority, or some legal principle. It takes away one’s anxiety rather quickly. The fundamentalist is more than anything else one who believes that all problems can be resolved by an appeal to authority. No inner life is necessary, no faith journey, no actual experience; someone else can do all my homework for me. “I do not need to take responsibility for my own life, someone higher will,” they seem to say.

This theme is most obvious in the Gospel, since the First Reading from Jeremiah, although touching, reveals him back into righteous and divine vengeance against others. We are so tired of this, but I would probably be the same if I were under attack as much as Jeremiah was.

In the Gospel passage today we have nothing but arguments about authority and “Who are you loyal to?”—Who do you follow or believe? Which is the correct Scripture? What is the proper interpretation of that Scripture? What group do you represent? Are you loyal to us or to Galilee? It is all about loyalty tests and reassurance of my fears and doubts. Human blindness and prejudice make you want to cry; and sadly, the patterns never change in politics, religion, or culture to this day.

Each remains smug and ignorant “in his own house,” as the episode sadly concludes: “Don’t bother me with larger wisdom, I have my small truth,” they seem to say. I so sincerely wish it were that easy. Now no one has to read or see what is right in front of them, as they are each hidden in their own house and quoting their own authorities. So read the full text of the Gospel now, but even more, the text of what is right in front of us today, the patterns of tabloid journalism, gossip, and condemnation by spin or sarcasm, that are the very shape of the world that we live in.


“You do not see any of the Sanhedrin believing in him, do you? Or the Pharisees? Only this lot that knows nothing about the law—and they are lost anyway! And each went off to his own house.” —John 7:48, 52


“God of All Authority, I place my trust in you, which is often to feel alone and without reassurance on this earth.”

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