PREPARE TO LISTEN. Be still for as long as you need, then pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
For the sake of time, I’ve skipped the lesson about Jesus returning to Jerusalem the day after the so-called ‘triumphal entry’ and disrupting the business that took place in the temple (11:15-19), a symbolic challenge to the religious authorities who legitimized this sale of merchandise. You might want to read it before going into today’s lesson as I will refer to it. Our lesson today picks up with Jesus retuning to the temple despite having created chaos the day before. You’d think he’d never again be allowed to set foot there. On this visit, Jesus’ final one before his arrest, he was confronted by the religious ruling class—the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. They were the final authority in all matters of Jewish religious and political life. They represent those who, as Jesus earlier predicted (8:31) would engineer his execution. After Jesus overturned the tables and interrupted the trading in the temple, the rulers became even more determined to destroy him, not so much because of the temple incident, but because “the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching” (v18). This is the first open confrontation with this group of leaders, preparing us for what is to come as Jesus walks through his final days. For this reason, I’ve included this episode for prayerful and thoughtful reflection.
READ: Mark 11:27-33 ‘Again they came to Jerusalem’
27Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’ 29Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ 31They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” 32But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 33So 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.’
The religious leaders were the only authority from God (heaven) for Jews in those days, they therefore assumed the right to demand that Jesus explain where he thinks his authority comes from (to do things like upturn the approved sale of sacrificial animals in the temple). Did he think it came from heaven and thus from God? If so, what evidence could he give for this? This is a legitimate concern, one we ought to think about in relation to the people we follow. The problem was, these guys weren’t willing to accept Jesus, even if he gave them incontestable proof. They made their demand, not in order to know the truth, but to gather fodder to send him to trial and death.
Jesus isn’t fooled; neither is he ready for his arrest (that time will come in the very near future). Therefore, he chooses to respond with a demand of his own, asking about the origin of John the Baptizer’s authority, despite the fact that John had been dead for about three years. The ruling elite dialogue among themselves and realize they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Because they can’t (wouldn’t) answer Jesus, he refused to answer them. He will give nothing to precipitate his arrest until his time has come. Both his question and refusal to respond to them is subtle evidence of his power and authority over them made in a purely non-violent way. The rulers failed to see this because they don’t want to acknowledge Jesus’ power over them. If we want to see the often subtle ways in which Jesus exercises his power and authority even today, we need to be willing to let go our prejudices and ideologies.
The religious leaders failed to see the subtle evidence Jesus presented to them that his authority is greater than theirs and therefore from God. Reflect today on the question: In what ways is Jesus’ subtle evidence seen in the world today? … in my life today?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Jesus, I pray that I may keep seeing the subtle ways you give evidence that you are indeed the only authority, ruling today in power and mercy so that my hope is renewed. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST, who reveals himself to those willing to see.