“As he was walking in the temple, the chief priest, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? …’. Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the chief priest, scribes and elders if the baptism of John came from heaven or if it was of human origin. The temple elites, who had previously challenged the divinity of John, were fearful that if they continued to claim that John was of human nature, their safety would be compromised by a crowd who regarded John as a prophet. So the leaders flinched, and to be safe, answered, “We do not know.”
In Holy week, we already know how this story ends: the leaders’ refusal to speak truth out of fear is only one of many betrayals of Jesus to come. How many times, like the Temple leaders, have I refused to speak the truth to others out of fear? How do I betray myself, others and God out of fear of being judged by a crowd? Allowing my voice to be heard; sharing my truth, being authentic, particularly when I am fearful, is an act of courage and faith.
But perhaps speaking the truth is only one side of the equation. How many times, as a follower or a member of a crowd, have I closed my ears and heart and judged those who seek to convey a truth that is different from mine? As we move into a season of determining who will be our next President, with all its upheaval and carnival-barking, I find myself quickly dismissing those potential leaders whose views diverge sharply from mine. Is this, too, a form of betrayal? Am I acting like the crowd who did not want to hear their leaders proclaim that John was of human nature?
I remind myself to trust in God’s message through the incarnation: like John and Jesus, we too, are both of heaven and human origin. God will not betray us, as we seek courage to speak our truth and patience and a clean heart to hear and discern the authenticity of others.
The readings for Tuesday in Holy Week are Psalm 6, 12; Lam. 1:17-22; 2 Cor. 1:8-22; Mark 11:27-33; and can be found at satucket.com/lectionary/2holywk.htm.