Friday, May 27, 2016

"BY WHAT AUTHORITY?"


Homily for May 28th, 2016: Mark 11:27-33.

          In Jesus’ day, and still in rabbinical schools today, it was common to settle disputed matters by asking one another questions. That is what is going on in the gospel reading we have just heard. “By what authority are you doing these things,” the religious authorities at Jerusalem ask Jesus. They want to know who had given Jesus the authority to cleanse the Temple, as Jesus has just done. Jesus responds with a counter-question: “Who gave John the Baptist the authority to baptize?”

          His critics recognize at once that whatever they answer, they will be in trouble. If they say that John baptized and preached by God’s authority, Jesus will ask them why they did not believe John. If the critics say that John the Baptist’s authority came from himself only, they will incriminate themselves with the people, who regarded John as a prophet sent by God. The critics take the safe way out by saying simply: “We do not know.” To which Jesus responds: “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

          What does this tell us? It tells us that we cannot demand from God explanations which make sense to us of things we do not understand -- injustice and suffering, for instance. The Old Testament book of Job is about a man who demanded that of God. Job is an upright and good man who suffers a series of major calamities. Why has all this happened to me? he asks God. Job receives no answer – until finally God appears and asks a series of questions which Job cannot answer. Where were you, Job, when I made, the sea, the land, the stars of heaven; the birds, the beasts, and man himself? The point of these rhetorical questions is to make Job understand that there is no equality between man and God. The book ends with Job accepting that he, a mere man, cannot demand answers of God. “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand,” Job confesses. “I had heard of you by word of mouth. But now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” (22:2-6).

          Jesus never promised that all would go well with us, or that we would understand when it does not. He promises one thing only: to be with us in good times and bad; and when we encounter suffering and injustice to give us not understanding, but the strength to go on.