Wednesday of Holy Week

Jeremiah 17:5-18

The Assistant

It is difficult to be an assistant anything, and so confused folks try to give it a makeover out of their own insecurity or wickedness. We speak of associate pastors now instead of assistants. In some places, there is the confused notion of a co-pastor. All of which is about resistance to the very idea of authority. Some are authorized to do some things. Others are authorized to do others. When we speak, for instance, of a priesthood of all believers that does not mean everyone is a pastor. Rather, it means all believers are, by their Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, part of the royal priesthood, meaning every Christian has a responsibility for lifting up in prayer the whole world in general and their relationships in particular.

In Christ’s Church, hierarchy is meant to be an inverted pyramid. If you have greater responsibility, you bear more weight for those for whom you are responsible. Graciously, the Lord Jesus is at the base of the inverted pyramid and, by His cross, bearing the weight of the sins of the whole world. When folks get confused about authority and power, they think they have greater power. Not so in Christ’s Church. The Holy Spirit gives the power to forgive and retain sins in the case of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. Elected to a particular area of responsibility, a pastor serves according to the particular authority bestowed in that role. Accordingly, a senior pastor bears greater responsibility than an associate. Likewise, a bishop bears greater responsibility than a senior pastor. But the common denominator is that a pastor is authorized, set apart after training and examination by the Church, to speak Law and Gospel in particular spheres of responsibility. I could go on about the confusion of authority and power. I digress.

The assistant was younger than his director. He was very talented, well liked, and, like an assistant coach, was authorized to develop younger talent to hand over to the director, and, as an assistant, he was there to assist. A well-functioning team has all the right people in the right seats on the bus. A good leader is able to direct without micromanaging but also to hold accountable each team member for his or her contributions to the team. The notion that there is no greater authority or responsibility leads to utter chaos and usually a lot of passive aggressiveness. In churches that’s disastrous. Someone has to lead.

So, the assistant, was jealous of the director. I’m sure he felt underappreciated, underpaid, and resentful that the older man was the director. As I once tried unsuccessfully to communicate to an associate, you don’t get handed greater authority without earning it. Or, as I have said to kids, “They don’t give good grades just because you are smart. You have to demonstrate that you are doing the work.” You can’t teach life experience. You get that from trial and error, from bad decisions. Would it were otherwise.

Like Judas, the assistant did a lot of behind the back complaining about the director. His lack of immaturity, not to mention jealousy, did not get him what he wanted. Nor did it make the man more marketable in the future. One gets a bad reputation for back-stabbing. We remember Judas for that.

We have creeds, because people were reading the same Bible and reaching different conclusions. The Holy Spirit directed the bishops of the early Church to discern the right way to tell Jesus’ story. As I have often helped children to understand, you can’t begin with one story and then change it to another. So it is that those with authority are authorized to accomplish the tasks for which they were authorized. In the case of the Church, we are to pass along the story rightly. In the case of the assistant, his work was to lay the foundation upon which the director would continue to build. Their program suffered for his sins, just as the Church in this world suffers for the sins of those who are utterly confused about authority and power.

Thank you, Father, for the good that the assistant was enabled to do and have mercy on him for the evil he did out of his own narcissistic desire to be more than he was authorized to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put forty-three pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box for the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.