Today’s reading: Luke 20:1-26
Chapter 20, starts with the priests and scribes asking the Lord by what authority he teaches. Here is the exchange:
One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question; now tell me, Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know whence it was. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Notice, the priests and scribes ask Jesus where he gets his authority, part of this question is WHO GAVE it to him. This shows what the common Jewish understanding of the day was – religious authority is something that can be passed on and is given by one who has it to another. Later, we will see this is how Saint Paul gets access to the synagogues as he travels. Paul would go into a synagogue and tell them his credentials. He would tell them that he was the accomplished student of a famous rabbi, and therefore he had authority to teach in the synagogue. Then the elders of that synagogue would then invite Paul to speak. That was how he first preached the Gospel to new audiences.
Here the priests and scribes are doing a similar thing. They are trying to define Jesus – to put him into a box, to know his “lineage” and therefore define his theological “school of thought” and his predispositions. Then they will know how to begin to de-legitimize him. It’s not different from today where someone might say, “I’m a Reagan conservative” or “I’m a liberal democrat” their opponents would immediately have a series of canned arguments against them.
Jesus, of course, turns the tables.
Jesus asks about John the Baptist and whether his authority was from heaven or from men. The priests and scribes are quickly boxed in. If they answer “Heaven”, they will be convicted for not following John. If they answer “men”, the people will be upset.
What happens if we ask about the authority Jesus passed on to the Apostles after the Resurrection? Where is it? Who claims it? And how do you respond to it?
The answer is glaringly obvious. Only one Church claims to have the original authority of Jesus. Only one Church claims to speak for God on earth. Only one Church claims to forgive sins. Only one Church can make the historical claim to be the Church founded by Jesus. Only one Church claims to be Jesus’ representative on earth, “the fullness of him who is all in all.”
And how do you respond to this claim of authority?
Out of necessity, do you deny that its authority is from Heaven? Because if you admit it would you not then be convicted for not following it?
Knowing the history, that Jesus had Apostles and that they passed on authority to their successors do you invent a “break” or a “lapse” in this line so that you can say it is an authority of men so as to get along and not be “stoned” with accusations of betrayal from your friends and family?
Do you avoid answering and say, “I do not know from whence it was”? Do you say, “I need more time” or “I’m not sure yet” or “I still haven’t seen enough evidence.” What would be enough evidence?
Take care how you answer these questions. Jesus Christ is the one who searches hearts and minds. Like in today’s reading he knows your plans and motivations like he knew the plans and motivations of the Pharisees. On the day of judgment, “I didn’t know” or “I wasn’t sure” or “I didn’t want to admit it” or “I didn’t want to go against my family” might not be enough.
Tomorrow’s reading: Luke 20:27-47