Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)
23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" 24Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 26But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." 27So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Greek playwright Euripides said, “Authority is never without hate.” It is fair to say the chief priests and elders were not very fond of Jesus. He made them nervous, impelling them to ask him where his power came from—like kids on the playground taunting, “You ain’t the boss of me.”
It is our nature to look for outward signs of authority—job title, education, connections to powerful people, etc. Jesus’ authority came from who he was, not from what he accomplished. Authority is not the same as power—authority is given; power is taken. Authority comes from the “author.” The plot twist here is that Jesus’ authority was not handed down, but handed up, as we learned in Philippians 2.
Just as people in Ezekiel’s day were unteachable, so were the religious leaders. The idea of transformation offends those who have an invested interest in maintaining the status quo. Especially if they are the ones in power.
Ruler of the nations, we worship and praise you for who you are. Transform our hearts in response for what you have done for us. Amen.