When Jesus had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached 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 in reply, “I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Jesus said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Haha! I love this. My immediate reaction to the story is always something like, “Ha! You sock it to ’em, Jesus! That’s what they get.”
It’s a powerful story because the chief priests and elders are envious of Jesus due to his popularity and authority with the people. THEY want to be the ONLY authorities; they feel very threatened by Jesus and seek to discredit him because he’s not an “official” Jewish teacher. This part of the story reminds me of many current leaders in the church: They see themselves as the official pastors, teachers and ministers to the people – because they’ve gone through the “official” education and formation to be in their positions. This, of course, doesn’t mean the “official” teachers are useless; it simply means God chooses to use other people, too.
Jesus manifests himself as a masterful teacher. I love how he asks a question and they refuse to answer. They are supposed to be so wise, and they won’t even TRY to answer the question! They immediately start spinning around in their own minds, worrying about what Jesus will say if they answer a certain way. Discussing the two options among themselves, they assume they already know what he will say in response. But maybe Jesus would have said something completely different. They also assume there are only two possible answers to the question: heavenly or human. But maybe the answer is “both.” Or “neither.” Or something else entirely. They don’t even consider those options. This alone shows their narrow-mindedness. Perhaps Jesus would have answered their original question if they had simply answered his question to them. Even if they were wrong. Jesus doesn’t say their answer has to be correct; he just says, “answer it for me.”
Ultimately, their antagonistic attitudes and scheming minds stopped them from being truly open in the presence of the Master. Not even one of them – apparently – was able to pass this test. I wonder if any of them ever realized what they’d lost.