Who authorized Jesus to teach? We shouldn’t forget that the chief priests and the scribes (in other words the Temple leadership) ask Jesus a pretty fair question:
‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’
They didn’t authorize this. They don’t know him. Who is Jesus to them?
By What Authority? (Day 36 of A Simple Lent) | Tuesday
Here we are, in Tuesday of Holy Week.
Jesus has made a great spectacle of his entrance, riding a donkey humbly, far from the vision of a conquering general or a would-be king. That was Sunday.
Jesus taught against corruption in the Temple on Monday, not only driving out the money-changers and dove-sellers, but shutting the whole thing down. If Sunday was political street theater, then Monday was the massive protest moment.
In Mark’s gospel, we then move to Tuesday where Jesus returns to the Temple for a third time (he peaked in on Sunday before he occupied the Temple on Monday). Still teaching. Now teaching more plainly.
It is also on Tuesday in which Jesus is confronted by all segments of the Temple leadership. And it starts, naturally, with authority.
Authorized by GOD or Humans?
We recognize their question as a simple one. Who authorized Jesus to teach people like this?
Before we even enter into Jesus’s tricky response, I want to figure out what it is they are asking. What would a “good” answer be? What is it that they are looking for?
It seems that they are asking about credentials and hierarchy. Is Jesus in the club?
Maybe they are asking about GOD-given authority. It doesn’t seem like it, though. It seems more like Jesus stumps them with the very suggestion of that.
Perhaps that is the very genius of Jesus’s response. I’ll answer your question if you answer mine first.
Origin of Baptism
If you ever wonder if Jesus is a master teacher, go back to this story.
They are confronting Jesus about authority and he gives them a question which widens the conversation and gives them a clue to Jesus’s answer to their question.
Who is behind the baptisms John was doing in the Jordan: John or GOD? To say John is to deny GOD’s place (and go against the crowds who have recognized John as a prophet). To say GOD is behind it is to admit they were wrong about John. One way denies GOD directly and the other way denies GOD implicitly.
Is there anyone who really blames the chief priests and scribes for trying to weasel their way out of this? As much as they thought they were trapping Jesus, he trapped them between unbelief and hypocrisy.
Authority and Us
One of the most challenging ideas for us continues to be this broadened sense of authority Jesus describes. We struggle with the split between human authorization and Spirit-given authority and most of us find the distinction hard to wrestle with.
There is comfort in the certainty of human authority. There is confusion in the uncertainty of divine authority. And for many of us, the inverse can be true. For these, there is greater comfort in divine authority and discomfort in human authority.
Perhaps solving this puzzle is not the true purpose of the story.
This is the first of several traps in which Jesus turns the tables on the leadership to reveal their hypocrisy and their unbelief.
And further, it seems as if Jesus’s ultimate purpose here was to teach them and the crowd what true authority looks like and where it comes from. What if this wasn’t a treatise about authority at all, but is instead about expanding their understanding to see GOD at work in new ways?
We get so focused on authority in all its forms. And we often think of it as those chief priests and scribes do: as in who is authorized to do something. Who has the credentials or the right degree from the right school. Or which diocese and which church.
As opposed to are they doing the work of Christ?
It is no mistake he refers to baptism, and they look at these crowds. Where the institutionalist thinks about matters of power and numbers, Jesus sees instead that good news is spreading. Good news of repentance and return. Not of spreadsheets or family ties.
I invite us to expand the question we more commonly ask ourselves: do I have the authority to do this?
Change it to: If I feel called to do this, do I dare not to?
[For further reflection, read last year’s meditation for Tuesday of Holy Week!]
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to simply be present in prayer, giving this week to GOD.
[No worksheet this week!]