They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Pastor Kevin Murphy, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church (Walnut Creek)
As Jesus’ Passion rapidly approaches, this scene becomes all the more important because we see all three factions, which made up the Jewish ruling Council coming to Jesus to ask him the “authority question.” They are asking the question because there is no greater authority than their own, and they have not authorized Jesus to do what he is doing, especially healing on the Sabbath – their primary concern!
Mark’s Gospel tells Jesus’ story in a straightforward, almost journalistic, style. Mark presents Jesus’ teaching and claims and then reflects on those who come to trust in him and those who don’t. When Jesus answers the authority question with a question, he unmasks the religious leadership’s difficulty in recognizing any authority but its own. They can’t say John or Jesus was from God because then they would have to give an account of why they did nothing to acknowledge God’s presence in their midst. I love Jesus’ insistent, “Answer me.” But they refuse (see John 5:39).
The question is not “by whose authority?” but “are you refusing to come to Jesus?” The religious leaders (of every stripe) always refused – with rare exception. Sometimes I see religious leaders more tied to their traditions and church polity than aligned with Jesus, his message and his agenda. This is not just an issue two thousand years ago; it is still true today.
The “by whose authority” question can be answered by every baptized believer: “I have the authority of my Father in heaven and he promises the power of the Holy Spirit will attend to me all the days of my life.” Our authority is directly connected to our identity – we are children of the Most High God, the King of the Universe!
Gracious God, help us to claim your authority and boldly proclaim, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Amen.