Matthew 21:23-17 NRSV
23 When 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?” 24 Jesus 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. 25 Did 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?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So 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.
Go back to this passage. Read it aloud to yourself. Go ahead, I’ll wait. 🙂
Reading the passage aloud is a little trick a wise friend taught me to do when studying Scripture. Seeing, speaking, and hearing the words helps us engage with the passage differently. Did you read it aloud? This passage feels so uncomfortable. You can almost cut the tension with a knife. I find myself cringing and wincing, especially when I read the dialogue. These words will be one of the final nails in the coffin for our beloved Savior.
We are in Holy Week, friends. Holy because it is set apart as the week of the Church calendar when we remember our Jesus’ journey to the cross. Those who witness this interaction did not know how close to the crucifixion this was, but we know how the story goes. We know that with these challenging words, Jesus is stepping closer to his death. This public humiliation and challenge of the chief priests and elders is one of last stops on that journey.
Remember, Jesus just cleansed the temple. We see Christ doing some more “house cleaning” in this confrontation. The leaders come to confront and expose Christ, and instead they find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jesus is teaching, and the representatives of the Sanhedrin interrupt his teaching to challenge him. They ask him point blank, “Hey buddy, who do you think you are?!” Big mistake by the chief priests. They lost the argument from the get-go. It was a common method of public debate to answer a question with a question. Jesus wins this debate just by making his challengers answer their own question, leaving them stunned. They reply with what William Barclay says is “the lamest of answers”— a resounding “We don’t know.”
You see, only those with Rabbi credentials were allowed to teach in the temple, and Jesus had none of that. Jesus has the authority of YHWH. Yet, Jesus does not answer by flashing his heavenly credentials, because he knows this would have given them the right to arrest him right there. He’d have been crucified on Wednesday! Jesus, as was his custom since his temptation with the devil, is waiting for the Father’s will. All of this will be done at the right time and in the way it needed to be done as it was foretold by the prophets. There would be no way anyone could say that Christ was not the Messiah. His life death and resurrection had been prophesied for generations before him. Jesus waits on his Father even though things are starting to ramp up to his betrayal, arrest, trial, torture, and death.
Jesus, again, is teaching us to wait on God. There’s no, “let’s get this over with,” mentality. There’s simply that calm, steady attitude of leaning into God and doing God’s will.
This Holy Week is one like we’ve never experienced before. We have new rhythms and ways of life. We are in full crisis mode as individuals and as a nation. So many of us want to get this over with already. There’s so much uncertainty and fear. We want to fast forward to the end of the quarantine. We want to get on with our lives. Yet there is so much to be learned in the here and now. There are so many gifts awaiting us on this part of the journey. God didn’t cause this pandemic. God is with us in it. God is with us in the waiting. Jesus chose to wait during the tensest time of his life. We, too, can exist with tension, seek God’s will, and breathe deeply while we wait.
Consider finding a quiet place to sit still and be in the presence of God. Not many of us have the opportunity to slow down and be in God’s presence in an intentional way. As you sit consider finding a 2-syllable word to align with your breathing like “Je-sus” or “Ya-Weh.” Set a 10-minute timer. When you find your mind wandering or racing return to your breath and God. Be gentle with yourself in this practice. Each time you wander is simply another wonderful opportunity to return to God. At the end of the 10 minutes gently return to your day and work.
God, grant us the grace to follow you in this season. We thank you for your mighty example of loving extravagantly by going to the cross. Help us in the waiting. Help us to find peace as we sit tight and wait for this storm to pass. Be with those of us who are working tirelessly to keep us all safe and well. You are our example, our strength, our living hope. Amen.