This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
SPEAKING THE TRUTH TO POWER: EDWARD SNOWDEN
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
20 1-2 Then one day as he was teaching the people in the Temple, and preaching the Gospel to them, the chief priests, the scribes and elders confronted him in a body and asked him this direct question, “Tell us by whose authority you act as you do—who gave you such authority?”
3-4 “I have a question for you, too,” replied Jesus. “John’s baptism, now—tell me, did it come from Heaven or was it purely human?”
5-7 At this they began arguing with each other, saying, “If we say, ‘from Heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe in him?’ but if we say it was purely human, this mob will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they replied that they did not know where it came from.
8 “Then,” returned Jesus, “neither will I tell you by what authority I do what I am doing.”
Luke was using his main source, the Gospel of Mark, at this point. In Luke’s Gospel, the relationship of John the Baptist to Jesus is emphasised from the start: they are cousins. But the most important name in this dialogue is the unspoken name of God. “By whose authority?” raised the question of God as ta rap for Jesus, since a direct claim to divine authority risked blasphemy in the eyes of some, or unpleasant arrogance in the eyes of others.
The Gospel tradition shows Jesus turning the tables on his opponents: if affirming God’s authority is dangerous, denying it in the face of popular belief may be even more so. John’s martyrdom for denouncing Herod’s second marriage had confirmed his reputation as a prophet who spoke God’s word fearlessly, but the religious leaders had always been reluctant to acknowledge a man who urged them to repent. Jesus’ ready grasp of these issues allows him to win this contest.
But the real issue is the nature of God. The religious leaders think of God as the Holy One who can only be approached through the sacrificial system of orthodox religion, whereas Jesus thinks of God as the Holy One who gives his word of wisdom to the prophets. They have no religious credentials “but Wisdom will be proven right by her children,” Jesus said. He was reminding his opponents and the crowd that the Temple religion was only one of the faces of traditional faith. The other came roughened by the desert winds speaking a language dry as sand that had offended kings and priests for centuries. Such words cannot be officially authorised; that is their nature; they come from another place. They either carry their own conviction or expose their speakers to the rage of power.
“By what authority have you done these things?” demanded the outraged US establishment of Edward Snowden, who revealed to a startled world that valued US allies as well as US citizens are under US surveillance all the time. Those in power have apparently unlimited authority to snoop whereas those who are told to carry out the snooping have no right to question their orders, and of course those under surveillance have no rights at all. The words of any truth-teller, even a slightly fearful one like Edward Snowden, point to the awful possibility that there is One by whom the US Administration may be held responsible.