The question raised by “the chief priests and the elders of the people” regarding what authority Jesus was teaching was not an uncommon question. Rabbis and teachers often began their presentations by sharing with their listeners who was their teacher. It would have been from the authority they received from them that they taught.
Jesus did not do so for his authority came directly from God. Those questioning Jesus knew this and wanted Jesus to say it publicly so as to charge him with blasphemy by putting himself on the same level as God. Jesus did not give them the satisfaction. Instead of answering their question, Jesus deftly asked one of his own. “Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin” (Mt: 21:24)?
The answer given by the chief priests and elders to the question posed by Jesus showed their weakness. They were the shepherds of the people of Israel, yet they would not speak the truth. Instead, they offered an answer that was calculated and weighed out by taking a quick opinion poll among themselves. Their answer was feebly, “We do not know.”
In answering this way, their authority as leaders was diminished. For if they were the religious guardians and guides, why could they not answer the simple question regarding the origin of John’s baptism?
Do we weigh out our answers based on a presumed response or do we speak the truth? We want to be liked, respected, we want to belong and to fit in, which is natural, but sometimes we feel uncomfortable speaking what we know we ought to say for fear of another’s reactions.
If we are to be people of integrity, if we are to live out our baptismal call as prophets, there will be times when we need to resist the perceived and real pressures we feel, face the conflicts that arise, and speak what we know God would have us say at the moment, especially regarding the dignity of others. As we do so, we still need to respect the person we are speaking with. Sometimes silence is called for. The key to our discernment is to follow the lead of God and not our fear.
Jesus, please forgive us for the times when we have not been honest because we have given into anxieties and fears. Help us to call on you to guide us and give us the courage and words to speak with charity no matter what pressures we face.
Let us pray for one another that we may speak and act in each situation as God directs us. Photo credit: Jack McKee