When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
"By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"
This is a typical reaction to hearing unpleasant comments on our way of doing
things. We don’t use such elegant language, though, and are more likely to say,
“Who do you think YOU are?” or, “Who put YOU in charge?” or something to
that effect. In this passage, Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and
has gone into the temple and driven out the vendors, criticizing what the temple
has become. No wonder they confront him and ask him who he thinks he is. Jesus
responds with two questions of his own, trying to get them to shed their prejudices
and see things in a new light and acknowledge that they need to shift their beliefs
and practices. When change comes, we too are likely to reflexively challenge the
source or the authority of the change: yet Jesus asks us to look into our hearts and
honestly examine this new thing with an open mind, weighing its value on its own
merits. As we wait on Jesus, let us keep our minds and hearts open to the new
teachings that he brings into the world, the new way of doing things, the new way
of walking the journey as Christians.
The Rev. Mary Lynn Adams, Deacon
St. Anne's Episcopal Church
De Pere, Wisconsin