Who he said he was

We’re stuck with either-or: either Jesus was a charlatan or he was what he said he was. Today’s Gospel reading, as seen in the challenge of the Jewish elders, is consistent with this persistent problem.

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Who he said he was

By Steve Hall


Memorial of Saint Justin, Martyr
Jude 17:20-25
Mark 11: 27-33


It’s difficult to argue that Jesus has not been controversial. Then. Now. Always. In Jesus’ day, he was most commonly accused of being a magician or a minion of Satan himself. We’re a bit more sophisticated today. On one side, some simply deny his relevance. On the other hand, some would say he was a creation of his followers, he was just a legend, the facts have been exaggerated, or there is no proof he ever existed. Such charges have come and gone through the centuries. Nevertheless, we must deal with the facts of his teachings, miracles, confrontations, disciple’s claims, persistent devotion, and commitment even unto death. So we’re stuck with either-or: either he was a charlatan or what he said he was. Today’s Gospel reading, as seen in the challenge of the Jewish elders, is consistent with this persistent problem.

The first problem of those confronting him is their assumption that the authority they are demanding is some sort of human authority. Implicit in their question is the supposed authority that might follow from a particular school or rabbi. Jesus had neither, and the challengers probably knew it. There is a second problem these folks had. They assumed they could recognize legitimate authority when they saw it. In the context of the full gospel story ( as opposed to this single incident), that assumption would prove false.

So we have a slightly different issue set before us. Instead of asking “By what authority are you doing these things?” We should be hearing “By what authority do you reject these things?” In other words, we should seek to understand what ‘authority’ is behind our rejection of the person of Jesus or any part of his teaching.

The most common answer in today’s world seems to be the authority of science; but other options are available. Maybe it’s the authority of the masses as in ‘everybody’s doing it.’ Maybe it’s the authority of ourselves as in ‘what’s right for others isn’t necessarily right for me.’ In any case, whatever ‘authority’ we choose to have guide us it will be human in origin . . . Unless . . . it has a divine origin. That, of course, brings us to the same problem the Jewish leadership had in Jesus’ day: can we recognize legitimate authority when we see it?

Or maybe the question should be “Are we willing to recognize legitimate authority when we see it?”

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