April 15, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 11:27-33.
They returned once more to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple area, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders approached him and said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I shall ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say, ‘[Then] why did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” — they feared the crowd, for they all thought John really was a prophet. So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Then Jesus said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
It’s important to understand the world view of the Jewish authorities. Moloney explains in The Gospel of Mark, “Authoritative action and teaching, within a Jewish world, must be based upon a prior authority. Authority is passed on from master to follower, from rabbi to rabbi, ultimately reaching back to Moses.” Mark here is drawing the stark distinction between established authority and a challenge to authority. The established authorities had tradition on their side, a claim going all the way back to Moses. That was the source of their status, power, and privilege. They were not accustomed to being challenged or questioned. The contemporary corollary is the Church’s position that the papacy is directly linked to Peter and draws its authority from him.
Jesus, on the other hand, had not studied under a rabbi as far as we know. In his teachings he always asserted his own authority. He frequently said, “Amen, amen, I say to you.” He reinforced his teaching often by referring to the words of the prophets as the messengers, the voices of God. Further, he eschewed the trappings of authority and even corrected the rich, young man in telling him that only God was good. Jesus knew that John was popularly considered a prophet and that many thought he himself was a prophet, the messenger of God.
These authorities, these men so puffed up with their own importance, were between a rock and hard place. There was no face-saving way out of the dilemma. So, they took the cowardly course, saying they didn’t know.
There is a difference between not knowing and not wanting to know. Not knowing leads to exploring, discovering, and learning. Not wanting to know means not wanting to change one’s mind or not wanting to know the facts or the truth. Jesus gave the authorities the opportunity once again to step out of their rigid way of looking at the world. He gave them the chance to wonder and so to consider possibilities. Could it be that John was a prophet? If so, what was the message that God gave His people? What changes was God asking His people to make? Could it be that Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah or even the Son of God? Was God the source of his authority? But they didn’t want to consider such questions; they didn’t want to know.
When I was an adolescent I pridefully called myself an agnostic. There was no certain way to know if there God existed. Instead of asking questions and seeking answers, I simply made up my mind and closed it off to wondering. There were too many other, more important questions to explore and things to learn and experiences to live. Those questions about God didn’t go away, though. They may have been deeply hidden away, but they didn’t disappear. A lot of things coalesced to make me look at the huge hole in my understanding of myself and the world. Why was I born? What purpose was my life to serve? If there was a God, why did He permit evil to go unvanquished? And so many more. At first I looked for evidence that God didn’t exist, but I wasn’t fully convinced. Slowly I began to notice signs that He was there somewhere. Then the quest to know became earnest and urgent.
I am still asking questions; I still want to find the answers. I know that Jesus is spurring me on. He wants me to know him fully, to be my companion and guide. He wants me to know without doubt that God loves me unconditionally. He wants me to comprehend and strive for the kingdom of God, the eternal present. He wanted all this for the Jewish authorities as well, but they were more intent on preserving the status quo, of knowing all the answers already. They were unable to question, to doubt, to wonder and so they were unable to see the truth that stood before them. They were unable to hear the word of God.
I pray that I will always ask questions, that I will always be seeking to know God more fully. I am convinced that in my seeking God will reveal Himself.