“By what authority are you doing these things?” That’s the question the chief priests and elders have for Jesus as he enters the Temple on Monday morning. We’ll have to deal with that question tomorrow as there is obviously more to this story than meets the eye. Here is another one of those times where the lectionary doesn’t help us much by taking a story completely out of context. We’ve jumped from the Parable of the Generous Landowner in Proper 20 to Monday in Holy Week in Proper 21. Here’s a glimpse of what happened in between.
Rabbi Jesus came to town, riding on a donkey. Stuck a palm branch in his hair, and they called him “Son of David.” He then proceeded to enter the Temple, flip over the money changers’ tables, chase them all out with whips (in John’s account at least), and then he heals the blind the lame who come to him. As the people shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” the chief priests and scribes became incensed and asked him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Sunday ended with Jesus leaving them Temple Court in ruins as the religious powers-that-be scratched their heads and plotted against him.
Our Gospel lesson opens the next morning as Jesus and his disciples return to the Temple and once again encounter the chief priests and scribes. The Temple Council had probably been up all night trying to figure out what to do with Jesus, all the while assuming that they’d probably never see him again. They plotted and schemed and planned and when, to their surprise, he does show up, they’re ready with a question to trap him in blasphemy. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” As the ruling voice of religion in Israel, they know that they didn’t give Jesus the authority, and so just about any answer he gives will lead them right into their trap.
What they didn’t expect was that Jesus would answer with a question of his own.