The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 53
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 11:27-33When I took a course in graduate school for Political Science on Rights, it was one of my first courses in one of my field political theory. Because of the subject their were a lot of non political theorists in the class, a normal class of 6 was over 20. The debates were crazy. People would come up with hypotheticals, one I remember from animal rights week was "you driving along the road and your choice is to kill the dolphin on the right or your child on the left." They really wanted an answer, because they couldn't understand how I could justify saving animals and giving them rights. Me the vegetarian had to choose. I of course being a good political theorist rewrote the question and the whole premise, arguing that it isn't black and white there are always other choices and decisions that can change the outcome. There are always other options. I don't know how any times I have had to have this conversation on hypotheticals/ questions/challenges, over being a vegetarian. "Would you eat road kill? If the animal washed up dead in front of you? Oysters don't have faces?" Behind all of the hypothetical situations was a challenge to the very idea of being vegetarian. The normative is to eat meat, so to choose to refrain from eating meat is see n as deviant and subject to challenge. Some people are attempting to get me to change my deviance and return me to normality. But there especially when I became a vegetarian 27 years ago there was a desire to get me to change. Sometimes we had debates about the treatment of animals and the cruelty of factory farming. But there was also this sense that my choice was against their choice, when I really gave up trying to convert people within the first year of becoming a vegetarian.
Well Jesus, in this section of Mark, faces hypothetical questions from the religious leaders and local political party members. These questions aren't really mean as a means to learn more about following God, what kingdom living looks like or what God's dream for the world is? These questions are instead intended to challenge Jesus' understanding of God and his authority as a teacher. This series of hypothetical questions is meant to set Jesus up for a fall.
Today's hypothetical is about authority, leadership. "By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?" Jesus changes the terms of the debate. Instead of answering their question, he asks a question that turns the challenge back on them. Jesus asks did John's baptism come from God or man. The religious folk huddle up and debated how to answer. They weighed the pros and cons of each answer. They see that there is no answer that produces the desired outcome they want. They want Jesus to claim authority from God so they can arrest him for blasphemy. If they say man, then John's followers will revolt. So they don't answer. Then they refuse to answer his question, Jesus says he too will refuse to answer. During this section of the Gospel, Jesus is teaching us how to face verbal challenges to our faith.
Jesus, today I have faced so many challenges and questions. Please be with me in the face of these confrontations. Help me to see a way when there is no way. Help me to find the answer when the answer is a challenge to my own hope and the people I am in conflict with. Be with me in the face of the challenges and confrontations and help me to move through them with your presence being with me, in me, and surrounding me. Amen.