Jesus’ Authority Is Questioned
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.”
Well, we come to the end of chapter 11 but we don’t come to the end of the cranky Jesus passages. This chapter has begun a string of passages that show a different side of Jesus. This isn’t the warm and fuzzy Jesus that we so often see. This isn’t the buddy buddy Jesus, but the one who is establishing who he is over and against his opponents. It began with the entry into Jerusalem (greeted as a king) and continued with the visual parable of the fig tree and the actions in the temple. And we come here to the question of Jesus’ authority. Authority is something that can be just given to people because of their role, but it can disappear just as easily when trust is broken or mistakes made. Authority remains and grows as others witness and experience trust, wisdom, and strength. Tonight, we were at a nature center here in Cincinnati and they had several of these beautiful owls there for people to see. They were majestic, strong, and I was reminded of the wisdom that owls represent for so many. At the same time, one of the handlers mentioned about how, while they are comfortable with their keepers, the owls are still dangerous and will still bite and claw if one is not careful. I feel a lot of that with Jesus in these sections – he has authority, he has incredible wisdom, but he isn’t entirely safe by any means. And we’ll see more of that to come.