“By what authority are you doing these things?”
The chief priests, scribes, and elders confront Jesus as he enters the temple with an intellectual trap, for they are fearful of his growing strength, miraculous acts, and subversive teachings. This is a remarkable triumvirate of Jewish leaders who normally do not collaborate on issues, but Jesus poses a particular threat to the various institutions of leadership within the fabric of Jewish life. If they can get Jesus to slip up and prove that he is acting without authority, they hope they can turn the crowds against him and then bring him up on charges. Jesus brilliantly answers the question with a question, an old rabbinical debating technique, and he stymies the Jewish leaders into a non-answer, embarrassing them in front of the crowds.
I find myself admiring Jesus’ quick wit, penetrating comeback, and open-ended response. I might even say that I am envious of his intellectual prowess and command of the situation. As a father, an educator, a coach, and a counselor, I find that my authority is questioned fairly often. Obviously, no one is challenging the divine origin of my authority, but its source and relevance can be open game for a precocious teenager or demanding parent. Jesus inspires me to truly listen to the questioner, assess the deeper meaning of the inquiry, and not seek an immediate resolution to the challenge, nor to take it personally. By creating some space and a bit of dissonance, Jesus draws the Pharisees out into the open, and they reveal their true intentions and the real meaning behind their questioning.
O Lord, you are a God of unlimited patience in the face of our questioning, our unfaithfulness, and our ignorance. Inspire us to listen, to comprehend, and to grasp the meaning behind the questioners in our lives. Your wisdom is at our fingertips if we are willing to heed your words. Amen.