Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
The Gospel reading for this day confronts us with a question that Jesus actually refused to answer,
“By what authority are you doing these things? … And who gave you the authority to do this?”
The question comes after two significant events that threaten the power dynamics and social hierarchy in Jerusalem:
- Jesus entering the holy city peaceably on the back of a colt and being welcomed by the common people, to the cry of “Hosanna” which means “save us,” who see being fulfilled before them Zechariah’s prophecy (9:9) that Zion’s King would come to them mounted on the foal of a donkey.
- Jesus forcefully expelling the corrupt traders and money lenders from the temple to return it to a place of prayer. This action is particularly important in light of Malachi’s prophecy as it testifies to Jesus’ true identity and authority: “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple … But who can endure the day of his coming? … For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:1-2).
The question is not asked by the common people but by those who have religious and political power over them – the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council).
Make a list of all of the “voices” that have power and influence in your life. Remember to include those from the past who still have an impact on how you think and act today.
Next to each “voice,” simply plus a “+” “-” or “?” as you reflect on whether it has a positive, negative, or neutral impact on who you are and what you do.
Finally, number the list in order of importance with 1 having the greatest influence, 2 the next etc.
Jesus responds. Not doing so would have been highly disrespectful, and I’m sure that his mother had brought him up right.
But he doesn’t answer the question that they have asked, for his actions themselves have indicated his true identity and the source of his authority.
Instead, he turns the tables by asking them a question about the source of John’s authority to baptise in the name of God that they cannot possibly answer without further damaging their credibility among the people.
The discussion ends in deadlock. Those in power are forced to proclaim, “We do not know” (Mark 11:33a).
Often we do not know the credentials of those who seek to influence us. Nor do we truly know the voices that drive them – their hidden ambitions, their deepest longings, their fears and insecurities. Often we just follow.
But this season points us to the Ultimate Authority in our lives – our Advent God who pronounces us beloved and holy and well that we might never live like fools again (Psalm 85:8).
How does God’s authority compare to the other “voices” in your life?
Where did it rank on your list?
As others look at your choices and actions, would they question where your authority comes from or would they long to know the One who leads you more intimately?
As the first week of Advent comes to an end, you may want to sit for a while with the words from Ezekiel 36:24-28 which speak of how God exercises God’s authority – to gather, to clean, to give, to remove, to make possible, to be ours.
Do you, truly, long to be God’s?