By what authority?

Jesus Healing

Meditation on Mark 11:27-33

Jews answer a question with a question. It is an ethnic technique common in Rabbinic Literature (for example in the Talmud). All the four Gospels provide ample examples (as many as 30) where Jesus answered questions with questions. This text is one of those examples.

Let’s begin with a question: What things? Jesus was asked a question: “By what authority are you doing these things?” At the end of the text Jesus answered (or said, really, because he did not answer the question) but said: “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things”

What things? Previous to this text, there is the story of Jesus cursing a fig tree because it did not have fruits, then smashing money counters in the temple and chasing away money changers. (By the way, money changing is still a very lucrative business in Jerusalem today). Are these the things he is being questioned about? May be! And as the Jews would say, there is a high probability of this possibility!

Elsewhere too, Jesus’ authority was questioned when he healed or forgave sins, and perhaps even when he fed the hungry.

So, the purpose of Jesus asking a question for a question, and the principle behind this whole Jewish ethnic technique is to help one – the questioner – examine issues critically. The danger is that often, the deepest issues are passed by while actions are merely superficial.

Let me give an example for illustration: Last week, in a small discussion group, we watched a video of a pastor illustrating how listening to God’s – what he called –  whispers is often discomforting, challenging and even involves risking. He talked about his church, how they experienced expansion while attracting diversity. That was very good and certainly in accordance to what God would desire.

Before long, they started a special ministry to serve an increasing Hispanic membership in the congregation. Then, lo and behold, they were facing a deep issue: Most of the growing Hispanic membership was what is known as undocumented, aliens, illegal immigrants… Some in the congregation started asking: What shall we do? By what authority are we doing these things?

God’s commands regarding the stranger, the poor, the widow, the orphan – without qualification – are very clear. Jesus’ examples are equally very clear. So the church was led into looking critically at the larger immigration issue.

The major part of the so-called broken system that resulted in 11 million “illegal immigrants” is in the question: By what authority? Often the question is debilitating, causing inaction or at best a simple examination of issues on the surface only.