Wednesday 2 October 2013

Matthew 21:23-46 - Authority challenged

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In the first part of the chapter, Jesus demonstrates his authority in a variety of ways. But his authority does not go unchallenged.

In Matthew 21:23-27 we read about a direct challenge from the chief priests and the elders of the people. They demand to know what his authority consists of and also who gave it to him. They made these demands while he was teaching. In other words, right in front of the people who were listening to him. This was a very public confrontation.

Instead of answering these two questions, Jesus asks a single question of his own. Not only that, he puts the onus on them to respond first. "If you answer my question, I'll answer your's."

They equivocate, so Jesus says, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am working". But he doesn't leave it there; he tells two parables one that describes their past failures and another that predicts his death and explains their thinking in their coming moves against him.

In Matthew 21:28-32 he compares them to a disobedient son who says he will but doesn't. And he contrasts them with the tax collectors and prostitutes who are entering the kingdom ahead of them!

And in Matthew 21:33-46 he compares them to wicked tenants who murder the heir of the estate. They knew that both parables were aimed fairly and squarely at them. And they wanted to arrest him.

Normally, it's not helpful to annoy and irritate powerful people. But this is a critical time, and Jesus knows he must act and speak very plainly. So are we to follow him in this too? Perhaps the answer is yes and no. We must speak the truth plainly but we must also speak it in love. Like Jesus, sometimes
we will need to avoid throwing pearls to the pigs, but at other times we will need to be outspoken regardless of the opposition.

We can see examples of both in the book of Acts, particularly in the life of Paul. Father, give us the wisdom to know when to remain quiet and when to speak out so that your will may be done and all the glory will be yours.

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