Yesterday the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that women will soon be allowed to drive there. Their authoritarian government is relenting on one of its long-time restrictions on the freedom of women, although other restrictions will remain in place. Female activists are celebrating this change, as much of the rest of the world shakes its head and wonders how such restrictions existed so long in modern times.
Questions about authority and governments are ancient. Our text this week from Matthew 21:23-32 gives us a peek at how Jewish government leaders in Jesus’ day viewed their authority in relation to His. Verse 23 shows them responding to Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple on or just after Palm Sunday be asking Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Rather than answer directly about His own authority, Jesus lifted the issue to another level by questioning them in turn in verse 25 about the authority of John the Baptist, whether it was of divine (“from heaven”) or human origin. We smile as we read their internal deliberations in the rest of verse 25 and verse 26. They find themselves caught on the horns of a dilemma between giving John’s mission a divine authority they apparently refused to accept and running afoul of the popular opinion that John was in fact a prophet, a messenger from God.
We today, of course, see politicians often caught in dilemmas between pretty obvious facts and fairly large factions of public opinion. Their failures to negotiate those dilemmas leave them unable to enact any meaningful legislation or accomplish much else. That paralysis, like the paralysis of the Jewish priests and elders which they admit in verse 27, “We do not know,” may sometimes be a good thing, preventing a disastrous grasp of one horn of a dilemma resulting in great detriment to the public good.
Yet paralyzed stasis between two opinions is not the best course when it comes to divine authority. Jesus (and His precursor John the Baptist) came to welcome women and men into a kingdom where they will be truly free. Quibbling about the authority of these messengers only keeps the quibbler from entering into that freedom. The little parable in verses 28-30, and the question which follows at the beginning of verse 31, is Jesus’ teaching that we must sometimes change our minds and held opinions in order to head in the direction of His kingdom.
After announcement of the change in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s policy on women driving, Manal al-Sharif, organizer of the Women2Drive campaign, posted on her Twitter account, “You want a statement here is one: ‘Saudi Arabia will never be the same again.'” The royal family’s willingness to change will have a deep effect on their society, resulting in a new and enhanced role for the subjugated and abused female half of the population.
Jesus told the authorities of His time that they needed to change in order to appreciate the new role an oppressed and abused segment of their society will have in the arriving kingdom of God. In verse 31 He says, “the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
That all suggests to me that as Christians today, if we truly want to follow Jesus’ directions to seek first His kingdom, we will need to look for it in the direction that less fortunate and less reputable segments of our society are headed. We may need to follow today’s outcasts–be they undocumented people, the sexually immoral, the uneducated, or the poor–in order to find our way into the kingdom of God.