We Are All Barney Fife

There was more egg to be scraped off the faces of media types this past Monday than was served up at all Bob Evans restaurants that day. That was the day the “Snowstorm of the Century” was to destroy New York. This monster turned out to be a midget. Although Boston got the brunt of the storm, the previous day’s media frenzy from the New York-based news “authorities” who parroted the civic “authorities” who quoted the weather “authorities” resulted in a massive city shutdown that also affected air travel all over the country. This non-event resulted in meek apologies from all these scribes who then tweeted, blogged and broadcast their rationalizations worldwide.

This experience supports the notion of taking a big grain of salt before swallowing anything fed to us by human authorities of any kind. Their Barney-Fife-like exercise of self-assured authority which is later followed by a “never-mind” (health scares of the month, political bloviating, economic miscalculations, etc.) has happened throughout human history and will continue to demonstrate our frail command of our fates. One of the few channels of human authority that has withstood more than 20 centuries comes from the human who happened to be God. Our readings this Sunday show God’s authority as a rare currency he invests carefully, using only the worthiest agents to distribute it.

In this Sunday’s first reading from Deuteronomy (DT 18:15-20), Moses foreshadows Jesus’ coming, describing him as the answer to his people’s prayers—prayers admitting humanity’s unworthiness and fear of receiving divine truth straight from the source. They pray for a human messenger with the authority to give them the facts. God loved this prayer, telling Moses it was “well said.”

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth. He shall tell them all that I command him,” God promised.

Mark’s gospel (MK 1:21-28) describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prayer:

“The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

But as the state of our society proves, humanity has as much trouble benefiting from that authority as trying to exercise it themselves. As carefully as we try to absorb Christ’s ageless teachings, we’re like dogs-in-training—easily distracted by balls, Frisbees, bunny rabbits—anything that enters our field of vision while sitting at our Master’s feet. Maybe that’s why Paul was so down on what he deemed the distraction of marriage, as he tells the Corinthians in our second reading (1 COR 7:32-35):

“An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.”

It’s as hard to be a servant distracted by many masters as it is to be a master with the authority to tell the absolute truth. We might, like Barney Fife, convince ourselves that we have a clue, but until we live the simple truth of the gospel, we’ll continue to be tripped up by the complex lie of our own authority.

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