Mark 11:27-33

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

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

They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Mark 11:27-33

We’ve heard much about authority in this 11th chapter of Mark. We’ve seen political and religious authorities who were threatened by Jesus and soon will seek his death. We’ve witnessed Jesus expressing his own authority in disrupting the temple and cursing the fig tree. And we have also been reminded of our own authority – to forgive the sins of others even as we seek our own forgiveness.

Now the chapter closes with a final verbal jousting match with the official religious types. Ironically, forgetting that their own authority is derived from God, they question Jesus about HIS authority. How will Jesus handle this attack?

Jesus answers their question with a question. It is a question that isn’t seeking an answer. It is seeking – and it gets – a response. A response that exposes the religious leaders for what they are. People who don’t give a rip about the truth or the faith. All they care about is preserving their positions, their power, their status. All they care about is pleasing the crowd that they count on for their own livelihoods.

This is a real temptation in our lives. We are so often driven far less by “What does loving our neighbors look like?” than by “What will the neighbors think of us?” Or we try to sneak out from under the challenge of our faith with our version of seeking loopholes, “So who truly IS my neighbor?”

This temptation to trade popularity for principles, to focus on people pleasing rather than people serving, remains a constant tension. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Ultimately it comes down to which authority we will submit to in our lives. The opponents of Jesus want to retain their own authority so they attack Jesus. They think that Jesus is “beneath them.” Their authority puts them on top. In charge. Their attitude is “no one is the boss of me!” If you think about that, it is pretty childish, even petty. Is it all that hard to imagine that people with institutional authority could be childish or petty?

Jesus, on the other hand, needs no institutional authority. Jesus IS authority – the author and giver of life. Thus the stance we take as followers of Jesus is humility, surrender, and obedience. We realize that the earthly authority we are given, institutional or otherwise, is derived from God who has put us in positions to love and serve our neighbors.

Of course all of us have to struggle with our own childishness, pettiness, and self-importance. The good news is that God never gives up on us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you design and sustain the world as an interdependent ecosystem that has a place and purpose for all things. Help us not only find our place but to be content with our place, surrendering again and again to your lordship in our lives, not seeking to be above others but always to love others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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