Today’s Daily Office Gospel begs a lot of questions. But, of course, that’s not unusual, is it? Still, this one caught my curiosity right from the beginning.
Jesus was teaching and “telling the good news” in the temple where people seemed to be listening and appreciating what he was saying. Who wouldn’t like to hear good news? There isn’t so much of it around that people can ignore it, can they? Yet, three groups of people: the elders, chief priests, and scribes, made their way to Jesus and openly questioned him about where he obtained his authority to teach such things. I know the temple officials were looking for false preachers who were encouraging belief in heretical theology; the temple was too holy to be open to those who preached such things.
As happened so many times during Jesus’s life on earth, he answered their questions with questions, turning the tables on the officials and challenging them to respond. Usually, the questions Jesus posed dealt with judgment on what appeared to be something unrelated to the original query. On today’s occasion, Jesus asked the officials about who told John he should baptize people? Where did the authority come from? It was a very canny question because it put his questioners in a quandary. If they said “heaven,” they would legitimize John as prophetic. As a result, his teachings would gain even more popularity and more followers every day. If they said “earth,” the followers of John would rise up and very possibly stone the religious leaders who refused to accept John as a prophet, a stance that many people believed in wholeheartedly.
The temple leaders could answer only that they did not know where John’s authority came from, an admission. Their admission did win them any points in the argument, like a draw in a chess game. Jesus’s words, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things,” was “checkmate” in two brief moves.
Another question that occurred to me was, where is this happening in our own time? Who has authority, and where does it come from? Religious sects and denominations, political parties, martial and judicial officials, and even groups like homeowners’ associations claim power and authority, yet where does it come from? Basically, it comes from the group that serves as an electoral board or some other group representing all those who claim allegiance to the person, group, or party seeking to be put in charge by a majority. Much of the time, the majority of the group decides the outcome. Still, now and again, the minority continues to fight to overturn decisions. Some groups may claim their authority comes from God, but can we trust whether that is actually true or not? Do their words sound like words from God? Do the actions of the group mirror Godly acts? Do their fingers point at others to distract from their own shortcomings, or do they speak of God and the good works of God’s people?
The people in Jesus’s time would have had to make up their own minds as to whether or not John, or Jesus for that matter, were telling the truth and who they claimed to be. We have the same choice, based on the same information. As for others who seek to influence people and lure them to their particular faith, party, or group, we must ask our own questions and weigh the answers we receive. Will we select those who choose to lead us to good words and actions, or will we choose self-serving people who care only for themselves and those who support them? Do we follow those who direct us to heaven or earth?
We have to choose wisely.
Image: The Pharisees Question Jesus, James Tissot (painted between 1886 and 1894). From the Brooklyn Museum. Found at Wikimedia Commons.