“By what authority are you doing these things?” This common question lies behind much of what happens in our modern society. When you bend or stretch the law, we are challenging the authority that tells us not to do this. When you exchange money for purchased goods you are complying with an economic system that claims authority. When you question politicians or local councillors, you’re not simply questioning them, but you are challenging the system that gave them their position. In a democracy you have the freedom to ask, “By what authority are you doing these things?”
We have our symbols of authority. Uniforms indicate a certain type of authority. Magistrates wear wigs to indicate their authority. Even in churches Pastors wear clerical clothes to indicate their authority. So when these things are not present, we wonder whether the authority of that person is still valid.
Even in churches we see the same question about authority being asked. When someone set’s up the altar differently, or puts out morning tea in a different way, or claps their hands during worship, the question lurking in people’s mind is about authority. I was recently asked this same question about FRONTIER. The premise was that the church gives authority to certain institutions to train people. The question on authority is something that pervades every aspect of our lives in ways many of us simply accept without question.
When Jesus begins teaching in the temple, the same question is offered by the religious leaders. Of course the question was profoundly provoked by the previous day’s actions of upturning tables and throwing the street market out of the temple. But it had been a question simmering amongst the Jewish leadership ever since Jesus began his ministry. For them, authority was a critical matter, having had most of their political authority usurped by the Roman occupation. Religious purity and adherence to custom and tradition, was all they really had left to define themselves as distinctly Jewish. But Jesus answers with a question at which they are overly cautious to respond. Either way they would lose, so they defer their answer, allowing Jesus to respond in the same manner.
In a world intent about authority, we have a clear and unapologetic answer. The only real authority is the authority Jesus has as God’s son. The one who uses that same authority to smash open the gates of hell and claim the ultimate victory over death, evil, and Satan. We can become distracted by the authority conflict with the same gender marriage debate. We can lose our way contending with the moralism of a secular world. We can demand a voice based on an assumed place of importance in society. But none of these are anywhere near as critical as the authority Jesus demonstrates on the cross for you.
When Jesus responded to the religious leaders about his authority, he didn’t enter into long arguments to prove it. He simply left them with a dilemma they could not resolve. In that moment, looking at the very people who would condemn him to death, there is no malice, just unconditional love toward his final accusers. In a world full of hate, anger, malice, and violence, our response to everything should be the same unconditional love that humbly points us and them to the one whose authority was finally seen on the cross.