3 April 2012Mark 11:27-33
"Jesus said to them, 'I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.'" (v. 29)
We are in Holy Week, in the days just before Jesus' trial and
execution, and the narrative highlights a number of conflicts with
the authorities. The atmosphere around Jesus is one where his
enemies are looking for evidence to indict him to the Roman
governor as a troublemaker and someone who is inciting the crowd to
sedition. So the questions that are fired at Jesus are not about
truth-seeking but entrapment. The immediate context is that Jesus
has just been involved with a major disturbance of the peace in the
temple compound (Mark 11:15-18).
One of the characteristics of Jesus that Mark is always highlighting is his compelling sense of authority. He was clearly a charismatic speaker and the crowds seemed to feel that something unusual and important was going to happen around Jesus (Mark 11:9). So the question kept arising, about where he got his authority to speak or act as he did. No doubt his enemies wanted to see him condemn himself out of his own mouth by making dangerous political claims that the Romans could not ignore.
Jesus was a highly-skilled debater and very often countered a question with another, equally crafty one. He asked where the authority of John the Baptist came from. John, with whom Jesus is closely linked in the Gospels, preached repentance and (like Jesus) did a great deal of speaking truth to power. And he was imprisoned and then executed for doing so. The chief priests and scribes are caught out by Jesus' question because however they answer they will put themselves in the wrong with an increasingly restive crowd.
The effect of Jesus' answer on the reader of Mark's Gospel is to remind us that Jesus saw himself as heading a movement that began with John the Baptist but culminates in himself. It also points forward to the inevitable outcome of Jesus' own arrest and trial, which he has been predicting since the start of his journey to Jerusalem (Mark 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:32-34).
How do you feel about it when someone in public life refuses to answer the question that has been asked? What sort of questions need a straight answer, and which is it right to deflect?
What are the straight questions to which you would like straight answers? And from whom?