bible blog 1211

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

North Korean Leader gets uncle out of his road

a question of authority

a question of authority

Matthew 21:23-32

New English Translation (NET)

The Authority of Jesus

23 Now after Jesus entered the temple courts, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from people?” They discussed this among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From people,’ we fear the crowd, for they all consider John to be a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. 30 The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

authorThe question of authority is always rightly asked of someone regarded as a prophet or teacher of faith, because such a person may affect the thoughts and actions of millions of others. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to answer directly. If the prophet answers that her authority is from God, will that quieten any opposition? If a teacher points to a tradition, that’s less controversial, but then he’ll be judged by his faithfulness to that tradition. If he refuses an answer he may be regarded as a charlatan.

Jesus takes up the cause of the prophet John, because he knows his opponents have a problem: they failed to trust a man who died for his faith and is considered generally to have been a saint. The silence of his opponents allows Jesus to say their question deserves no answer. This manoeuvre is in line with Jesus strategy as portrayed by Matthew, Mark and Luke-he rarely makes direct claims about himself but pushes people to make up their minds on the evidence of what he does. After all, how could we prove that anything comes from God? We can only say, “I believe this is godlike.” This may be as near as we get to a definition of God.

The simple but deadly parable of the two sons allows Jesus to contrast the promised obedience to God of the the religious establishment with the refusal of the tax-collectors and

"The point of the probe is always in the heart of the explorer."

“The point of the probe is always in the heart of the explorer.”

prostitutes. Yet the latter proved their obedience by responding to God’s prophet, while the establishment opposed him. The “sinners” saw John’s mission as Godlike whereas the establishment said, “This is not like our God.” The question of authority reveals not only the prophet’s allegiance but also our own. If you make a list of the people you regard as inspired prophets or teachers, you’ll have said something about your vision of God; -oh, my list? Dietrich Bonhoeffer (theologian and martyr) Gregory Bateson (ecologist, psychologist, philosopher) Simone Weil ( Writer) Olivier Messiaen (composer).

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