Mark 11:27-31 (NRSV)
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?”
I see the Scribes and Elders’ question as a political question or challenge to Jesus. Jesus was threatening their way of life; the institution in which they were respected leaders. We tend to forget these were not bad people, or at least not people we would consider bad. They knew the scriptures, studied God’s word, and followed the Law. There was an institution built up to respect and admire them. These were the people – men – who had done all the right things and had made it. I fear I would feel very comfortable with these spiritual leaders. I am after all an elder.
In his book Faith & Doubt, John Ortberg argues what we really believe is demonstrated through our actions. My father’s words – although I doubt they originate with him – were “what you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Ortberg writes that his actions (and ours) show “I believe that thirty thousand children dying of preventable diseases every day in our world are not worth risking my affluence for.”
How much of what we do would change if we truly trusted God and acted through prayer and in trust? I (we) have been richly blessed. Instead of working to protect what I (we) have, I should work so others have the choices and advantages I have. I should also be truly and deeply grateful for what I have been given. Most of all I should celebrate Grace, freely given for all.
Almighty God, I don’t understand. We have messed up so much of what you have given us. In these days give us the strength and courage to speak and act for peace, security, and justice for all people. Lead us to expose and change the inequities that undermine our brothers and sisters. Strengthen us to reach across barriers to build bridges of hope. May all we do be in grateful praise of you. Amen.