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 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 lukewarm, “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 our answers solely on a perceived response or do we speak the truth? We want to be liked, respected, to belong and to fit in, which is healthy, but sometimes we feel uncomfortable speaking what we know because we fear 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 that 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.
As we do so, we need to remember to speak from a place of understanding and love. It is better to engage in a dialogue, not just mutually imposed monologues. Also, a good reminder is to follow the lead of Jesus and ask more questions rather than offer more pronouncements. Our goal in any encounter is not to impress but to express the truth and allow others to do the same. We can grow from one another when we are willing to listen. We can actually move from talking past or shouting over one another, or the other extreme of avoiding talking altogether, when we are willing to engage in respectful dialogue even when we disagree.
Jesus, please forgive us for the times when we have not spoken honestly or not been open to listening and hearing the perspective of another. 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 and give us the ears to hear as well.
Let us pray for one another that we may think, listen, speak, and act in each situation as God directs us. Photo credit: Jack McKee