Matthew 21:23-27

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. Matthew 21:23-27

The chief priests and elders are on their home court. The seat of their power. The temple. And they have Jesus in their crosshairs.

What are they hoping to do with their question about authority? Are they seeking information? Are they searching for the truth? Are they open-minded about what they might hear? We know the answers to those questions. No, they aren’t seeking the truth. No, they aren’t trying to better understand Jesus and his teaching. No, they are not open-minded. All they are trying to do is to give Jesus just enough rope to hang himself. They are building a case to support their own preconceived commitments.

They don’t care about Jesus. They don’t care about what he has to say. They only care about protecting their power, their positions, their prestige. Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are well intentioned, seeking only to do their jobs, you still come to the simple conclusion that they were stone cold wrong about Jesus. He was only a threat to them.

Jesus answers their question with a question. Their internal arguments betray them. They don’t want to be exposed for what they really are. They aren’t interested in God or the people. They aren’t seeking truth, they are just protecting themselves. So they evade. And Jesus refuses to answer their question on their terms.

The question concerns authority. Later in Matthew Jesus will be quite clear about his authority. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” This is an authority rooted in creation itself. God is the author of life, continually writing the story of our existence. Jesus is the central character because Jesus, in the flesh, reveals the loving character of God.

What does Jesus do with his authority? He heals the sick. He feeds the hungry. He touches the possessed and the dispossessed. He doesn’t seek the adulation of the crowds or the attention of the chief priests and elders. He does what he came to do. To exemplify love.

When he finally speaks of his own authority, to his disciples on that mountain in the last chapter of Matthew, he tells them to go and continue doing what they saw him do. To go. To make disciples. To baptize and to teach. And he concludes with a promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you are the Author and the giver of life. You are Lord, Savior, Guide, and Friend. May your authority reach into our lives, into our thoughts, our desires, our actions. May we see through the “chief priests and elders” of our day, those who sit in positions of self-serving power, who reject your way of being in the world, who use people rather than serving them. May we find our place in the world at your feet, and may we follow where those feet lead. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 21:23-27”

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