by: Martin Bell
There he is. In the temple again. Causing trouble. Speaking very differently from other preachers. Speaking with authority about sorrow, anxiety, sickness and death. Penetrating the darkest corners of human existence. Shattering illusion. Make no mistake about it; this is a dangerous man.
The Christ Event. Jesus of Nazareth. The man for others, whose words cut through our most stubborn defenses and expose the whole of humanity in its nakedness. The fugitive who confronts us with direct authority. The one in whose presence the lame rise up and walk. The poor are comforted. The eyes of the blind are opened. The diseased are healed. Who would dare even to speak his name for fear of consequences.
But now as he comes into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people approach him and say, “By what authority are you doing these things?” have they no fear at all? No sense of the mystery?
For a moment Jesus is silent. Only his eyes betray his impatience. Then suddenly a counter-question: “What do you think about John the Baptist? Was he the instrument of God in history or a charlatan?”
The question is disturbing and exceedingly difficult to answer. John the Baptist is considered by the general populace to have been a prophet. It would be easier to reply that John was the instrument of God in history – not a charlatan in any sense. The problem with this answer is that Jesus will immediately ask why they did not repent and believe what John has said. On the other hand, to say that John was a Charlatan would be to incur the wrath of the people.
The chief priests and the elders will not rick either answer. The compromise that they decide upon is to say, “Who knows? Who knows whether John was the instrument of God or a charlatan? We can’t say!”
Jesus doesn’t even look at them. Now he is ready to answer their question about authority. “Who knows?” he says. “Who knows by what authority I do these things? I can’t say!”
The chief priests deserve that. The elders should have known better than to ask the question in the first place. If they are not willing to risk themselves, what difference will it make what Jesus says?
Instead of answering the chief priests and the elders directly, Jesus asks a counter-question. If his assailants admit that John the Baptist acted and preached on divine authority, then they must be prepared to reorder their lives according to what John had called for. That is to say, they must commit themselves. If, on the other hand, they believe that John was a fanatic and a charlatan, they must be prepared to say so – no matter how unpopular such an opinion might be. Once again, to answer the question implies commitment.
For timid and cautious men who are unwilling to take the risk involved in either answer, the only possible response is, “Who knows?”
But then, what is there left for Jesus to say? We do not know the Christ and then commit ourselves to Him. Commitment is the one and only way by which we may know the Christ.
There he is. In the temple again. Causing trouble. Tearing away the shroud that surrounds careful and frightened men who have come to accept disillusionment as a way of life. Cutting to the heart of those who dare not trust anything or anyone until they are certain that this trust will not be violated. Holding up the absolute necessity of deciding before the lives of men who would prefer to remain on the sidelines as spectators and onlookers. Challenging the chief priests and the elders to adopt a responsible position, regardless of what it is! The Christ Event. Jesus of Nazareth. The man for others.
What do you think of John the Baptist? Was he God’s instrument in history, or a charlatan? They have just fifteen seconds to decide.
What the chief priests and the elders do not realize is that life itself in inextricably bound to decision making. To live is to decide, to risk being wring, to bet your life. Nothing could be more foreign to the ears of these analytical men who have come to observe the young man from Nazareth. Yet nothing could be more central to their understanding of what he is all about.
By what authority is he doing these things? That is the question. Good! But the deeper puzzle that must first be untangled is why they want to know anyway! What difference will it make? What risks are they prepared to take? Is this question really one of final seriousness for them? How ready are they to commit themselves before God?
And so, the counter-question. What about John the Baptist? Prophet or madman?
To live is to decide, to risk being wrong, to bet your life. Life itself is inextricable bound to decision making. Life itself is inextricably bound to decision making. It is not enough to be interested in this man, or fascinated by him or drawn to him. Either we stand ready to commit our deaths to him or we don’t. No one ever knows the Christ and then commits himself. Commitment is the one and only way by which we may know the Christ.
By what authority is he doing these things? What do you think? Is he the one to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given, or is he an invented dream of human longing?
Yes or no? To live is to decide, to risk being wrong. It is not enough to be interested in, or fascinated by Jesus of Nazareth. It is not enough to be frightened, cautious, and bewildered spectators. Curiosity about the Christ Event in history is not enough. Either we stand ready to commit our deaths or we don’t.
Actually, it shouldn’t be all that frightening. Everyone has to die anyway. It’s not as if there were some other option. Each of us must die. That’s a given. That’s just the way it is. What is not part of the given is the how, or the why, or the what for of your death. What you are going to die for is not a given. What your death is going to be about is up to you.
So what do you think? By what authority is he doing these things? The chief priests and the elders will not risk themselves. It is clear that they are not really serious about wanting to know. Although they are interested in Jesus, even fascinated by him, the ecclesiastical dignitaries are not ready to commit their deaths to anything or anyone.
But what about you? What is your answer? It’s all very well to say, “God knows!” But such an evasion cannot suffice. God never has to decide. Men do.
There he is, in the temple again. Causing trouble. The broken one who cuts through our most stubborn defenses and demands that we place our lives on the line. The fugitive who confronts us with direct authority. Make no mistake about it; this is a dangerous man.