Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?’’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
Beware the authority question. Because when we ask it – and let’s not push this off on the chief priests but recognize our own tendencies – we usually hear the truth of what someone has said and don’t like it. So rather than respond to the truth of the word or deed in question, we dodge its implications and instead ask, “By what authority do you say and do these things?”
I love the way they repeat their question: “By what authority….” “Who gave you the authority….” It’s the same question, of course, which is another tell-tale of our anxiety, our sense of being implicated, our desire to dodge the demands of the truth. We get nervous, we equivocate, we stutter and sputter and repeat ourselves all in the hope of creating a wall of technicalities around ourselves so that we don’t really have to acknowledge, let alone answer to, the honest demand someone has placed on us.
And Jesus gives no answer. Finally, ultimately, he is answer enough. His words and deeds do not merely ask for acknowledgement but make a demand upon us. A demand no equivocation or maneuvering can evade. So the questions remains – for the chief priests, scribes and elders; for Peter and the disciples; for all of us who call ourselves his disciples today – “Who do you say that I am?” And with the demand, the summons, “Then take up your cross and follow me.”
Prayer: Dear God, give us the courage to hear your call, the strength to answer it, and the love to reach out to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.