By Whose Authority?

Mark 11: 27-33
Sir 51:12cd-20 / Ps 19:8-11

John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!
(Mark 11:30)

By what authority do they act
To make laws that control and define
Our moral statutes that are in fact
Beyond the sphere of human design?

Jesus and His disciples were once again in Jerusalem, and while walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to ask Him. “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?” Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone regarded John as a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mark 11: 27-33)


They were the “top brass” in the temple of Jerusalem – the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Aside from the Romans under whom all Israel was subjugated, there were no other groups of people who wielded political and religious authority over the Jews. What Jesus did earlier – driving the merchants out of the temple’s courtyard – was the last straw. They had waited long enough to get rid of this itinerant preacher from Nazareth. His violent dispersal of the money changers from the temple now gave them the opportunity to mete Him the death sentence. By asking Him where He got the authority to drive out those people from the temple, they figured that He would surely say something blasphemous, such as “My authority comes from God,” or worse, “I am the Son of God.” They had Him.

As it turned out, Jesus turned the table on them. They were so obsessed in keeping their authority and good standing with the Jewish people that they could not reveal their true sentiments about the baptism that John the Baptist was performing. Most of them did not go to John to be baptized; they were too proud to subjugate their position of authority to a humble man who lived in the wilderness and survived only on locusts and honey. And yet they feared the rebuke of the people who regarded John as a prophet. Thus they found themselves caught between their own two horns of pride and prejudice.

Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel of Mark not to be intimidated by people who exercise or hold positions of authority. Nor our stand on matters of morality or Christian doctrines be influenced by popular or modern views. Many Catholics have stopped going to Sunday mass because their trendy friends have convinced them that their born-again prayer meetings offer more meaningful spiritual growth. Some of these modern thinkers attack the Church for being so ‘antiquated’ in dealing with the world’s problem of population growth. So many Christians take it for granted that birth control pills and condoms are necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies and contracting venereal disease or AIDS. Virginity is a thing of the past, and corruption and dishonesty are unavoidable or even necessary in doing business!

As Catholics we must be able to discern the authority of the state in matters that counter the teachings of the Church, particularly in the passage of laws like the Reproductive Health Bills (HB4110 and HB5043) that encourage or mandate birth control and sex education in primary schools. Going beyond protecting the rights of homosexuals, now some of our ‘honorable’ representatives are even proposing legalizing same- sex marriage! They should be the ones asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” Clearly, we must be more vigilant in protecting the very foundation of our society, which is the Christian family and the sanctity of marriage. These were instituted by an Authority that no man or an assembly of men can ever revise or contradict. And we have the responsibility and God’s authority to drive these merchants of wrongdoing from our temples and marketplaces.

Lord God, keep us from stumbling because of pride or false sense of authority; may we be guided always by the lessons of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, to Whom be glory, power, majesty and authority from ages past, now and for ages to come (Jude 25). Amen.

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