The chief priests at the Temple discover how conversations with Jesus don’t always go as planned.
It’s unfortunate that the lectionary skips over some important stuff that provides the context to why the leaders felt compelled to interview Jesus in the first place. Just the day before, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Accompanied by a very large, cheering crowd, Jesus goes directly to the temple and the people follow. Much to their delight, he overturns the tables of the moneylenders and frees the animals that were to be sold for sacrificing to God.
When Jesus returns the next morning, the leaders are still reeling from his outrageous spectacle. I’m sure the last thing they wanted to do was to coddle some rebellious rabbi. Yet given the motely crew that was following him, they have no other option but to deal with Jesus as quickly and calmly as possible. So they try the Dr. Phil method.
We know they weren’t there to interview Jesus; they came to confront and to trap him. They begin by asking, “Who gives you the authority to do these things you do?” It might seem like a harmless question, but Jesus knew they weren’t interested in getting to know more about him. Their only concerned was with keeping the status quo, and holding on to their control of the temple. So instead of taking their bait, Jesus returns their question for a question. The interviewee becomes the interviewer. And the leaders discover Jesus is going to a major threat to their privileged life.
Now we know the lengths people are willing to go to maintain their place of power. An obvious illustration might be the way our voting districts have been carved out so one party can keep control over another. A more subtle and less obvious example might be the way some churches try to fit God inside a tidy little box or personal agenda that allows them to discount others they deem unworthy.
Jesus reminds us all that real power and authority do not come from a political party or a religious institution. Instead, all authority comes from God. And so we are called to submit to God’s righteous will…not our own self-righteousness.
Judging by this story, it seems Jesus views self-righteousness as a serious sin, far worse than cheating people out of their hard earned money or human trafficking. But we all know how easy it is to be trapped by this sin – especially for anyone who likes being right and virtuous… which means most of us.
Think about how self-righteousness affects your life. It might be obvious…or it might be subtle. For example, when someone who does not share your point of view confronts you, or rejects your values and beliefs, what tends to be your first reaction? Now… how well does it reflect the will of God?
The chief priest and elders have come to trap Jesus, but instead they are ones who are caught. Stammering and tongue-tied over a rather thorny question on the authority of John the Baptist, they don’t know what hit them. But it doesn’t matter. Jesus knows their heart. And his question helps them see and understand that their commitment to John would mean to make a commitment to him.
Jesus quickly fires off a parable about two sons who are called to do the will of their father, and by the end of the story he has pulled off the masks of the leaders and revealed their lack of faith and belief. Stripping them of any false power they’ve claimed. And this is exactly why you don’t want to interview Jesus.
The simplest question can get your head spinning and turn your world upside down. It’s like being stuck in a house of mirrors at a carnival, where predictable shapes are quickly distorted and you struggle to distinguish between illusion and reality.
With this confrontation, Jesus draws us all into a room full of mirrors and asks each of us to identify who we are, and more importantly who we are in His name. In front of this wall of reflection – where just a few mirrors bring hundreds of me to life – my own familiar image can leave me feeling trapped or betrayed.
Confronting Jesus is dangerous. But following him is life giving.
Like Dr. Phil, I’m curious to know how Jesus turns water into wine, or how he is able to stop a hurricane in its tracks. But I’m also afraid to ask him these things because I fear facing that mirror Jesus will no doubt put in front of me.
I’m not so sure that Jesus is interested in conversations about the meaning of life. It seems t me he wants to know if my life has meaning. Does it have a purpose that extends beyond my own self-righteousness? In other words, am I doing what God is calling me to do? Or am I merely doing what I want to do? These are questions only you can answer.
When we believe that we are better than others, or when we judge a person for doing something that goes against our morals and principles, then whose authority are we really under? Jesus specifically tells us not to judge, for we ourselves will be judged. Instead he calls us get rid of our stuff and to follow him. He wants us to wash feet and pray and care for our enemies.
Such idea’s seem foreign to us these days. Yet just as they continue to trip us up and turn us around, they also point us in the right direction and lead us through a world filled with mirrors.
By following the path that Jesus has placed before us, we begin to love as he loved us, forgive as often as he forgives us, and offer mercy and grace to others…just as freely as it has been offered to us.
By his own words and deeds, Jesus confounds us and claims us at the same time. He comes to where we are and calls us into his life, where we are welcomed to march side by side with the faithful and broken, the righteous and the lost, the sinners and the saints… in heaven’s carnival parade.
Never once did Jesus claim his authority was of his own doing. He gave all praise and glory to God. He submitted himself to God’s will and set the example for us all to follow suit.
And so I leave you with poetic words of St. Paul who wrote, “let us be of the same mind as Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equally with God, as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave…becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
We know that his story does not end there. It continues to live through us. We are the mirrors.
So are you ready for your interview?
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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