“Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20:2, NIV)
Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus does not demure from talking about his authority and its source. I am thinking about the Gospel of John, in particular, or the final chapter of Matthew.
It did get me wondering, though, how Luke-Acts records Jesus’ testimony about his authority. Was his refusal to answer here in chapter 20 an aberration or something that marks Luke’s gospel as different from the others.
And then I read the parable of the tenants and the son of the master who the people murder to seize his inheritance (Luke 20:9-18). Or many other places within a few pages of this encounter with the elders and chief priests where Jesus is not at all shy about who he is. We may not get the “I am” sayings of John, but Luke does not hide the answer to the question of the source of Jesus’ authority from us.
I think to understand why he does not answer — or rather answers in riddles — the question put to him in the opening of Luke 20 we have to look at the end of Luke 19. After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he laments the way the city has killed the prophets and declares that the thing they long for will now be hidden from those who sought it.
If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you. (Luke 19:42-44, NIV)
Jesus’ refusal to answer the elders is the hiding of the truth that they would not receive when it was offered to them.
And so, I find myself reflecting on the church today. Perhaps the weeping of Jesus over Jerusalem, the refusal to answer those who do not recognize him as God, and the parable about the murdered son and the cornerstone that crushes all who rejected him are pieces of a story that is not repeated today. They are parts of an ancient story, not ours. Perhaps this is so.
Of course, it does not feel that way to me as I read this. It feels as if there are many times and ways that the world, and that I in my rebellion, refuse to receive Jesus as king. And the outcome of that refusal is that Jesus hides himself from our eyes. We find ourselves muttering about what rights and authority he has to tell us this or to command us to that. We ask to see his bona fides and he refuses. They have already been offered. If we do not believe Moses and the prophets, we will not believe a man who comes back from the dead.
The authority of Jesus is not something we confer on him. It is not an office he gets to assume because we all vote him into power. It is something we recognize as already present. If we do not accept it on this basis, the proof of it will remain hidden from us. All our asking after the source of his authority will never give us more than Jesus himself, Lord and king.