Today we continue the account of Jesus’ conflict with the religious establishment after the dramatic “moneychangers in the temple” event of yesterday. Today, the chief priests, scribes and elders ask the obvious question, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you the authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28)
That is to say: Yesterday, you stood in the midst of the temple, questioned the entire sacrificial system, and accused our leaders of robbing the poor to advance their own ends! How dare you? “Who made you the boss of us,” as our kids might put it today.
Jesus responds by setting them up with a brilliant conundrum, a “Catch 22” if there ever was one. Basically, he asked them who gave his predecessor, John the Baptist, his authority. John was a prophet in the long line of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others, at least according to his followers — who were many. The religious leaders had tried to “stay neutral” on the Baptizer as he came into conflict with their Roman overlords.
Now they were being called out. If they denied that he was a prophet, the people might rise up in revolt. If they said that he was a prophet, that his authority came from God, the obvious question would be, “Then why didn’t you acknowledge him. And come to his assistance when he was arrested and murdered by Herod?”
They took the Fifth –“I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.”
In a court of law, such a statement usually means the defendant is guilty.
Jesus – 1; Chief priests, scribes and elders – 0