Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’
We’ve all encountered those people who ask questions, not because they’re interested in our answers but because they want to pick a fight, shout the loudest, get their point across. It’s often hard to know the best way to respond. Sometimes we simply need to hear them, let them know they have been listened to – ‘Allow them their thoughts’ as I read recently, and then go our way in as much peace as we can manage.
I am impressed that Jesus kept on engaging with people who were simply trying to trip him up, entangle him, get rid of him. And I am grateful. The endlessness of his patience reassures me.
These past months, we’ve all been challenged by authority telling us to stay home, stay away from friends and family. We’ve been overloaded with conspiracy theories, some significantly loopier than others but still believed in by some. Truth and authority matter. We have seen what happens when people do not accept authority, the results of democractic elections, scientifically based guidance. We’ve had to choose who we will believe and what, as a result, our responses will be. And then live – or die – with those results.
Jesus offered the Sanhedrin a step in the right direction – towards recognising God at work in John the Baptist and in Himself. That they had to ask the question revealed their blindness to the God they claimed to serve. Bound up with jockeying for power, position, all the administration of Temple worship – so much busy busyness – had they simply lost sight of a God who preferred kindness and mercy, truth and justice to any amount of barbecued meat?
Open our eyes to see where You are at work. Challenge us when our traditions, politics, vested interests stand in the way of what You are doing. Give us courage to accept Your authority for our lives and wisdom to test all other claims against Yours. Amen.