When Truth is Silent

Christ Pantocrator, Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Cefalù, Sicily, 12th century. Licensed by Andreas Wahra under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

Psalm 25; Matthew 21:23-27

When Jesus had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?”  

Matthew 21:23

The question to Jesus was loaded. It assumed a position of power and authority over Jesus to judge him. In a court of law, the questioner is in the driver’s seat. Jesus was under no obligation to answer persons who had no desire for the truth.

Jesus said to them in reply, “I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?”

Matthew 21:24-25

Such was the stature of John the Baptist that Jesus could invoke him as a worthy witness to his own credibility. John’s entire life of asceticism and prayer spoke for itself. The chief priests and elders found themselves twisted and tangled in conflicting interests. On the one hand, they were reluctant to approve John as divinely anointed for both religious and political reasons. John’s solo mission from the desert threatened the Temple establishment, and also disturbed the peace with Roman authorities and Herod Antipas.1 Any disruption of the status quo was unwelcome. On the other hand, they felt threatened by John’s popularity with the Jewish populace. Jesus’ interrogators resorted to the only safe answer left.

They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” He himself said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Matthew 21:25-27

The false-hearted and calculating will not profit by the truth. Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6).

Jesus did not bother to justify his authority or explain himself. Dialogue is a two-way process, but if one party has its mind made up, what is there to discuss?

Truth reveals himself to those who seek it:

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.

Psalm 25:4-5

-GMC

1 See Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series,Volume 1, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 300.

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