23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Matthew 21: 23-27)
After Jesus ‘cleansed’ the temple, it was able to once again be the house of God, a house of prayer. Therefore Jesus, who was the presence of God in flesh and blood, was teaching and healing all who gathered despite the dismay and increasing contempt of the religious elite.
The chief priests and elders were not simply the religious elite, but also the religious authority. Thus, they choose to confront Jesus about his authority to teach and heal. However, their inquiry was founded upon neither the desire for deeper understanding nor innocent curiosity, but rather it was built upon the dangerous cornerstone of jealousy and fear.
Let us pause and consider: ‘What is Authority?”
- Authority is a neutral tool. It is not necessarily benevolent or malevolent, but has the potential to be.
- Authority is willed through the intention of the person (or persons) and their manipulation of it.
- Authority is varied. Authority includes our personal voice, the collective voice, and entrusted positions.
These chief priests and elders were accustomed to their position with its said responsibilities, privileges, and authority. Jesus was a significant threat due to his popularity, teaching, and healing. Thus, the chief priests and elders were not merely jealous of Jesus’ authority, but fearful for the loss of their own.
Fear is not a preferred motivation, but it is effective…
These chief priests and elders were motivated by fear to inquire about the source of Jesus’ authority.
These chief priests and elders were motivated by fear to not respond to Jesus’ question.
These chief priests and elders were motivated by fear to conspire together for Jesus’ death.
Within our current realities, we do not have to search for examples of fear motivating us, our communities, the Church, and the entire world for better and for ill. The COVID 19 pandemic has incited said fear.
We are motivated by fear AND love to practice good hygiene (positive).
We are motivated by fear AND love to social distance/isolate for the wellbeing of others (positive).
We are motivated by fear AND love to creatively connect with loved ones (positive).
But, we are motivated by fear alone to hoard supplies and resources (negative).
But, we are motivated by fear alone to ‘scapegoat’ a person or persons (negative).
If we are motivated by fear,
may it be for the better and rooted in love of God and neighbor
rather than jealousy and clinging to our sense of authority and control. Amen.