“By what authority are you doing these things?” – Mark 11:28a (NRSV)
When I first became part of a household with my stepson, he was in elementary school, and one of the adjustments we all had to make was defining who had the last word on things. The problem was not one among the adults. The little guy would try every angle to be sure he got things right. More than once, he asked me if we could get pizza for dinner. After I said yes, I would hear him seek out the other parent and ask the question again. As an experienced parent, I was prepared for a child to ask again when he didn’t get the answer he wanted. But why would he ask again when he got the desired response?
We live in a time when figures and institutions we once might have regarded as authoritative are constantly being questioned. I rarely accept a news story as true until I have checked additional, reliable sources – and by whose authority do I call them “reliable,” anyway?
Jesus received questions about his authority for teaching and healing from leaders who both wanted to stop him and wanted to hold onto their authority with the crowd. When he turned the question back on them, they ran through the possible responses and decided not to answer.
We’ve all had these moments, second-guessing ourselves. Now that he’s older, my stepson tells us he “just wanted to be sure.” I know that feeling, the one that opens a moment of hesitation. Jesus asked the religious leaders whether a particular authority came from heaven or from humanity. It’s the first question to ask when we aren’t sure what’s right.
Holy One, help us to ask you for our answers, no matter what the question. Amen.
Martha Spong is a UCC pastor, a clergy coach, and editor of The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, new from The Pilgrim Press.