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The Authority of Christ
Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church
When he 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?” 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?” 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.
Opening Prayer: Oh my Jesus, I believe that you are the Christ. I need no other proof of your authority other than the testimony of your word and your Church. Continually open my eyes and heart to your teaching.
- Questioning God: The chief priests and elders questioned Jesus’s authority. They were waiting for him to expose himself in some way. If he said that his authority came from himself as the second person of the Trinity and from God the Father–which was the truth–then they would have accused him of blasphemy. So Jesus turned the tables on the elders and asked a question of his own. He knew the hearts of these learned men. He knew that they were not interested in the truth, but rather in trapping him. After Jesus’s resurrection, he told his Apostles the truth of his power: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Then he transferred his authority to those Apostles, who then handed it down throughout all the generations of his Church.
- Embarrassed and Afraid: By not answering the chief priests’ question, Jesus exposed their own shortcomings. They were embarrassed and afraid. They were embarrassed because they did not know the origins of John’s baptism. They were afraid of the crowds: What they would think of their leaders, and what might they do in response? Would the people riot or rebel? the Pharisees wondered. Would their own authority be questioned? By trying to hold onto their own power, they failed to see the amazing work that God was doing right in front of them.
- Blind to God’s Plan: St. John the Baptist came in righteousness (Matthew 21:32), but the chief priests and elders were blind to his work and his message of repentance. Their eyes were shut and their minds were closed to Jesus, even before his ministry had begun. We can ask ourselves if our own striving for power or control gets in our way of seeing God’s work, which continually surrounds us. We will see through a proverbial pinhole if we do not stop and intentionally pray about how God is working in us, through us, and all around us. Without prayer, we can mistakenly think that we are the ones doing the work. What a shame it would be to miss the bigger plan–God’s plan–and how it is gloriously unfolding all around us, every moment of the day. May we never hear Jesus asking us, “Why did you not believe?”
Conversing with Christ: Jesus, I believe in your authority. I trust in you. Help me see the work that you are doing in me and in all believers. Bless me in my mission to build up your Church. Help me to never be embarrassed or afraid of what others think of me, but rather keep my heart set on pleasing you alone.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will stop and pray about how you are working in my life and spend a moment thanking you from the bottom of my heart.
For Further Reflection: Read the first chapter of Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of Vatican II. Read it through the lens of Christ bestowing his authority on the Church. A key passage: “This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after his Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which he erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’” (Lumen Gentium 73-75).
Written by Carey Boyzuck.
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