By what Authority, and in whose Name?

“By what authority, and in whose name, do you do these things?”

Getting into arguments on social media is its own punishment. But sometimes you just gotta.

That’s how I felt this past week. And as they tend to do, the initial discussion took a sudden turn, this time into the current Israeli conflict. What dismayed me (I would say “surprised,” but it really was no surprise), was that the people I was engaged with, deep “Jesus-obeying” Christians, were loudly advocating for the bombing of Iran and further punishment of Palestinians in the guise of fighting Hamas.

These were the people who were initially telling me I was not following Jesus because I endorsed LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance. Literally, the phrase thrown at me was “follow Jesus or not. You can’t do both!” Yet here they were, telling me that as Christians we needed to support Israel in their attack against Iran, and support them in annihilating the whole territory of Gaza as a legitimate response to the October 7 attack on Israel.

Their devotion to obeying Jesus stopped at divine passivity. Unless they could arm Jesus with bombs and bullets, they were not interested. When I pointed out that Jesus told us to not only care for the widow and orphans, but to also love and care for our enemies, those words fell on deaf ears. The Prince of Peace was weaponized to be General of Israel’s (and America’s) armies. Like the song we used to sing in church, “Mighty warrior, dressed for battle, holy lord of all is he. Commander in Chief, bring us to attention, lead us into battle, to crush the enemy!” A violent and militant Christianity.

This, to me, is taking the Lord’s name in vain. It is twisting everything Jesus said and stood for.

And it left words from this week’s lectionary reading ringing in my ears. Peter and John had just healed a crippled man at the Temple gates, saying, “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk.” And this act got them arrested by the Temple authorities who were “disturbed” by what those apostles were teaching. And they were challenged: “By what authority or in whose name did you do this?” Then Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” responded again. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified …”

See, what they probably would have said in their native language was “in the name of Jesus the Messiah.” This would have immediately been a slap in the face. The Messiah, whom popular belief depicted as that mighty warrior, was instead the mild, passive man not raising a hand to resist his own execution.

It is the power and name of that loving, non-militant, good shepherd which healed the crippled man. It is in that good shepherd’s name that we were charged to spread love — care, respect, justice — for each other, including to our enemies. And in doing so, Jesus said, we would be children of our Father in Heaven.

No one “filled with the Holy Spirit” can speak in that name and call for bombs and bullets in retaliation.

I don’t know that militant Jesus who goads us on to bomb civilians. I don’t follow or worship a “mighty warrior.” And that is my abiding question to Christians who are gung-ho for war. “By what authority and in whose name do you do these things?” It is NOT the name of the Messiah who came in peaceful ways with arms outstretched. It is NOT with the authority of the Prince of Peace. And I repeat the charge thrown at me: “Follow Jesus or not. You can’t do both.”

Let your words and actions be faithful to the One in whose name you claim to live.

Grace and peace to you this Sunday!

ref: John 3:1-10; John 4:5-12
Photo by Somchai Kongkamsri, cc0.