A Reflection on Thessalonians 1.1-10 and Matthew 22:15-22 by I.J.Nay
Leaders, figureheads, those in authority have a responsibility to use their positions with integrity; nowhere should this be truer than in the Church. The Gospel passage from Matthew states very clearly that the motive of the Pharisees is a bad one; they seek to entrap Jesus with a clever question. They flatter Jesus: ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one’ as part of that trap. Jesus of course is more than able to shatter their cleverness with his insight and truth. The Pharisees leave amazed at his teaching.
The question of who speaks with authority, who can lead us into truth and into the wisdom of God is not a mute one even today - in our own contexts and communities. Indeed, the way of the Church is littered with disputes concerning matters of theology, ecclesiology and ethics. Who speaks with authority, and how can we recognize them? Is it simply what people say that should move us, or should we too be concerned with who they are and the pattern of their lives?
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul commends the Thessalonians for being of such faith that ‘there is no need to speak about it’. He adds, that they are to be commended for turning from idols ‘to serve a living and true God’. The letter shows us how Paul sees the spread of the Gospel to be a matter not only of spreading the Word but also of setting an example, a pattern of Christian living. It is their imitation of Paul’s way of living that commends Paul to them. The Thessalonians are converted in their hearts to the way of Christ and seek to follow him. This does not necessarily mean, as can be seen, for example, in Paul’s difficult conversations with the Corinthians that all matters of daily living are resolved. Many difficult theological and ethical questions still confront them.
This has led me to thinking about theology and the Church and how the Anglican/Episcopal Church in particular is a Church that has a whole range of theological, ecclesiological and ethical viewpoints. What can hold us together despite these disagreements? How can we recognize Christ in one another? How can we call ourselves common members of the same Church? It is easy to demonise those we disagree with; it’s far too easy for me, for example, to see all those who disagree with women’s priesthood as being untrue to the Gospel. Similarly I may look down on those who consider homosexuality to be a sin. I think that Christ leads us in a better example however, one that cajoles us in to seeing Christ in the ‘other’ and especially in his disciples whom we have matters of disagreement with. It is not simply what people say, how they interpret Scripture, how they understand matters of theology that matters (even though these do matter) but we must seek also to read the hearts of others: listening to the pattern of their lives, to see if they are loving Christ-like people, honestly seeking to serve God and neighbour. We then may be able to look to ourselves and see if we truly are loving Christ-like people seeking to serve God and neighbour. If we start out aiming to respect the other, we may find that our conversations take on a new tone and we are able to move into positions of compromise.