|Voltaire once wrote (I imagine with tongue-in-cheek) that we should judge people more by their questions than their answers. Some people ask questions because they do not want to know the answers. In today’s Gospel this is certainly an accurate picture of the questioners of Jesus.
The context of this story is critical. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem in triumph, riding a donkey and being hailed by the crowds. Jesus went to the temple and overturned the tables of the merchants and money changers and claimed that sacred ground back for God. Clearly the very presence of Jesus challenged the authority of the chief priests and elders. The elders did not really want to know the answer to the question about the source of Jesus’s authority as they were bound by their own envy and anger and insecurities. They were motivated by their political concerns for keeping influence and power, their lack of perception about the motivation of John the Baptist and Jesus, and their hostility. At the root of their actions was their unbelief.
Those questioning Jesus were not able to understand the authority of Jesus because he was behaving out of a form of authority that they had never seen before. To them, the trappings of status, wealth, a title and prestige were attached to authority. The order of Jesus’s authority was manifested with his welcoming sinners and prostitutes. Jesus welcomed children and those who are marginalized. In the end, His authority was supported by a life of service, personal sacrifice and ultimately his death. The elders had no idea on how to respond this kind of authority.
The question “by whose authority?” is an interesting questions for sure. This ultimately is a question that each of us must ask. Did Jesus do what he did based on the authority of God, as God’s Son? Or was Jesus just another prophet or even a crackpot Messiah? The way we answer that must leave us in no lukewarm and safe place. We either recognize Jesus as Lord with all authority or we do not. One of the challenges in this passage is the extent that we are prepared to use our gifts and position in our communities to serve those who are at the margins rather than see honor, respect and prestige from others. The religious leaders with whom Jesus was speaking were still stuck in their ‘No’ to God.
What do we believe? How deep is our belief in Jesus? Do we only believe because we were taught to believe or do we follow Jesus because we have had personal experiences with Jesus? There is a danger that we may become complacent in our belief. This Advent season is a good time to ask: what do I believe? Who is Jesus to me? Are we truly prepared to submit to the authority of Jesus?