bible blog 166

This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church

Gospel, Mark 11:27-33

27 They came to Jerusalem again, and as Jesus was walking in the Temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him,

28 and they said to him, ‘What authority have you for acting like this? Or who gave you authority to act like this?’

29 Jesus said to them, ‘And I will ask you a question, just one; answer me and I will tell you my authority for acting like this.

30 John’s baptism, what was its origin, heavenly or human? Answer me that.’

31 And they argued this way among themselves, ‘If we say heavenly, he will say, “Then why did you refuse to believe him?”

32 But dare we say human?’ — they had the people to fear, for everyone held that John had been a real prophet.

33 So their reply to Jesus was, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Nor will I tell you my authority for acting like this.’

The question about a leader’s authority is often, as here, a political one, It means “What right have you to disturb the status quo? We decide right and wrong!”

Jesus’ answer is also political: he gives them the choice of approving a popular prophet, to their own discomfort, or disapproving, and facing the wrath of the people.

Jesus’ example shows that our answer to criticism from the establishment need not be a deep theological analysis. A shrewd insight into their hypocrisy can be more effective.

The question also betrays the questioners, for it assumes that all authority must be guaranteed by power. In fact, God’s wishes don’t often have a chance, as the establishment announces its will as his. But how would it be to feel that God was asking you to say or to do unpopular things? Would the still, small voice be heard amidst the clamour of competing sound systems?

My own experience is that God’s authority is given in prayer, that is, in disciplined attention to the sources of faith (Bible, Worship, Church tradition) and the need of the world (one’s own, one’s neighbour’s, one’s society, the earth’s), and even then the assurance received is not that one is right, but that one is loved, along with one’s enemy.

This is not a recipe for tentative judgment. We have a duty to be clear about what we know-that racial superiority is evil, that torture is wrong- but we should be wary of those who also know that racists and torturers should be killed.

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