(Matthew 21.23-27; Mark 11.27-33)
1One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and telling the good news. So the chief priests, the teachers, and the nation's leaders 2asked him, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”
3Jesus replied, “I want to ask you a question. 4Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”
5They talked this over and said to each other, “We can't say God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn't believe John. 6And we can't say it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize. The crowd will stone us to death, because they think John was a prophet.”
7So they told Jesus, “We don't know who gave John the right to baptize.”
8Jesus replied, “Then I won't tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”
‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself,’ is how Franklin D. Roosevelt put it when marshaling his nation for the hardships of the Second World War.
Roosevelt understood that the battle is not only out there in the world, but inside, in a deeper place in the individual spirit. If the battle can be won ‘in here,’ it can then be won in the trenches and skies and waters of ‘out there.’
It’s not difficult to imagine Jesus saying something similar between the shrewd lines of this exchange with the religious leaders of his day. The leaders are not only questioning Jesus’ authority, but they’re showing their own fears, namely their fear of losing their power in the community.
Jesus shines a light on this by responding to their question with one of his own, a question that showed these leaders were afraid of losing this brief debate as well as the respect of the crowd.
Jesus could hold this sort of mirror up to his challengers because he was secure in his own identity. He didn’t say, ‘Gentlemen, if you only knew’ and then give a lengthy defense of his divine position with God the Father. He didn’t strive for position. He simply followed the road that he knew was his.
In doing so, Jesus was willing to give up status and much more. He was willing to accept the world’s pain, and then die for it. This is where he found his security. This is the example he left his followers.
There are other ways, lesser ways, for believers to act in the religious community and the world. Sooner or later, both will question our authority. But unless we respond with Christ’s spirit, we might cause as much harm as good.
Loving Heavenly Father, You have not given your followers a spirit of fear, but one of power and love and sound mind. Thank you for showing the way through Jesus, that I can walk in confidence along the road you have given just for me, even when that way gets rough.