Faced with opposition Jesus tries to establish his authority. He is speaking in the Temple, the heart of the nation, and he speaks from his heart. The authority he claims, as he expresses it here, is that he speaks from God. He is God’s Representative and he speaks not for himself or his own interests but for God and God’s interests.
Some years ago, I had the occasion to meet a person who knew the Reverend Ian Paisley, the controversial Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland. My informant told me that Paisley, a fundamentalist Protestant pastor who was fiercely anti-Catholic (and anti-Jesuit) and ferociously opposed to a united Ireland, was in fact an MP who was one of the most open politicians to anyone – including Catholics – who happened to be within his constituency. I believe this, because my source was as far opposed to Ian Paisley as one could be. I must confess, too, that despite Paisley’s anti-Catholic attitude I was impressed.
After all, what does it mean to be a parliamentarian? It is to be a representative, accountable to those who have elected you. In a democracy a parliamentarian is elected by the people to represent their interests in government. In our electoral system, a proportional representation (PR) system based on party lists, we do not elect a person but a party. But every South African parliamentarian is officially from a district in the country, a constituency, to which s/he is in theory accountable. The lists of constituencies and their MPs are available, but how many of us have ever checked them to find out who represents us? Not all South African MPs are diligent in being available to constituents and reporting back to them; but in fairness how many of us are diligent in calling on them to report in the first place?
No electoral system is ideal. There is much to be said for the PR system that we have, but some have suggested we change the system along modern German lines where half of the Bundestag [Parliament] is elected directly (as in the British, United States and old South African system) and half by PR. Though this idea was rejected by government in the early 2000s, it is worth a revisit.
But even then, perhaps the problem is not so much the system as the failure in mutual accountability: the accountability of MPs to us, and our responsibility to our MPs to call them to account.
Jesus makes it clear in this gospel text of his accountabilities. It defines who he is and demands of those in the Temple to take notice of him. We, the citizens of South Africa, who are so quick to moan when government acts against our desires and interests, need to be accountable to ourselves and to the values we hold. We need to stand up and say very clearly: ‘This is who we are.’