St Matthew 21: 23 – 27 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
Reflection The chief priests and the elders were not happy.
Yesterday Jesus had caused havoc. First he had stirred the city of Jerusalem into turmoil, leaving everyone asking who he was. Then he went straight to the temple and turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. Next he had the temerity to hold court inside the Temple, purporting to cure the blind and the lame and rudely rebuffing those who remonstrated with him when children began to call out ‘Hosannah to the Son of David!’.
Now Jesus was back again, teaching the people as though he owned the temple. So they accosted him, knowing that they were in the right – that they had the right, because they were in charge, as their caste had been for centuries (albeit now with the shadow of the Romans ever present). They didn’t beat about the bush. ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’
Jesus, like the seasoned teacher he was, answered their question with one of his own. One that reminded Matthew’s audience that it was at Jesus’ baptism that he had received confirmation of his authority from heaven and that the Spirit had descended upon him then, making him the anointed one, the Messiah.
Jesus’ question also left the chief priests and the elders in a quandary. The people believed in John and they did not. They could not or would not believe that either John’s or Jesus’ authority came from heaven, because that would have meant drastic changes to their understanding of God and God’s purposes, and, as a consequence, to their lives.
The question for us, is what do we believe and are we willing to let our beliefs change our lives?
Prayer Lord Jesus, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you. Help us not simply to believe this, but to let our beliefs change us and the way we live our lives, that we may become every more true to your image in us. Thanks be to God Amen.
The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, minister in the Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership.