I once heard a scholar talk about the way Rabbi’s worked in the world of Jesus. It wasn’t just anyone who could become a Rabbi, you had to really know your stuff. You had to not only have huge chunks of the Hebrew Scriptures memorized, but also had to know how they related and interconnected to each other. But the Rabbi’s that people were really drawn to, were the ones with authority.
The actual word for this kind of authority is S’mikah. Now this isn’t the kind of authority that means that you boss people around, but the kind of authority that allows a Rabbi to offer new and fresh interpretations of Torah. They could creatively step back and ask the question, “What if God actually meant this instead of that?”
This person went on to say that basically, there were actually two different kinds of Rabbi’s, those who have authority and those who don’t. The Rabbi’s without S’mikah had students, the Rabbi’s with S’mikah had disciples.
There’s a time in the Gospel of Mark where the religious leaders are attempting, yet again, to back Jesus into a corner. They want to know where Jesus got his authority, his S’mikah. It’s a fair question. After all, Jesus has talked a lot about his authority, or more specifically, what He is using his authority for. With it, Jesus drives out evil spirits, forgives the sins of paralytics, and turns over tables in the Temple. He is, in other words, using it very differently than the Gentiles.
But they still want to know where he got it.
And that’s when Jesus turns the table on them. Using some kind of Jedi mind trick, Jesus says that he will answer their question if they will answer one of his. Where did John the Baptist get his authority from? Which puts the religious leaders in a pickle. John was a bit like the Mother Theresea of the day, everyone had loved him, and so to speak ill of him wasn’t going to go over well.
Now this wasn’t some arbitrary question Jesus is throwing out here. He has an agenda, a direction that he is headed, with asking this. Because back in the day the way that S’mikah was given to someone was by them being ordained by other Rabbi’s with that kind of authority. Two or Three (or more) would gather together, lay hands on the person, and empower them to creatively wrestle with the Scriptures and teach out of that.
And in this story, John had baptized Jesus, publically affirming him…and so did the Lord.
In other words, Jesus was ordained.
Now, I don’t know if that is an accurate historic interpretation of this text, or if it’s just a creative way of talking about Jesus’ baptism and subsequent ministry, but I’ve thought alot about it recently.
Yesterday, I was ordained as the 11th preacher in the history of the Highland Church of Christ. It was something that neither Leslie or I will ever forget. The air of anticipation, of expectant potential, that was there. The sense of honor that comes from knowing that I am standing on the shoulders of great men like Lynn Anderson and Mike Cope. I stood on the stage and men that I love laid hands on me and prayed authority onto our ministry. It was an exciting, and peace bringing moment.
William Willimon says that ordination is a Creative act of God. The same way that God called the world out of chaos, ordination brings order to the life of a church and a minister. It charges a person with the task of being a preacher, pastor, and priest…but not a king.It is a call to use authority, but differently than the Gentiles.
When Willimon was ordained, he said that he felt the scores of hands on his head, and the weight of the centuries. All the doctrine of the church, the witnesses of the saints, all the good believed, said and done were laid upon him. Ordination didn’t isolate or lift up a single person. It connected him to the life of the church. It lays both a huge burden and a strong support.
Ordination means that we are called by God to make a difference, but that we are not alone.
We are given authority, but a different type of authority. We are called to preach a peculiar message, empowered to use new and fresh means to do it, but keeping in tune with the story that is as old as the ages.
At least that’s what it meant for me.