3rd Week of Advent
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
in a world of injustice, war and exploitation,
in which more and more people
have the means to live
but not many reasons to live for,
you promise us a star to follow,
Jesus, your Son.
God, keep in us the hope alive
that he will come today
and that, if we are willing
to take the demands of the Gospel seriously,
we can become indeed a new people
completely renewed in Christ,
our Saviour for ever and ever.
2) Gospel reading - Matthew 21,23-27
Jesus had gone into the Temple and was teaching, when the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, 'What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?'
In reply Jesus said to them, 'And I will ask you a question, just one; if you tell me the answer to it, then I will tell you my authority for acting like this.
John's baptism: what was its origin, heavenly or human?' And they argued this way among themselves, 'If we say heavenly, he will retort to us, "Then why did you refuse to believe him?"; but if we say human, we have the people to fear, for they all hold that John was a prophet.'
So their reply to Jesus was, 'We do not know.' And he retorted to them, 'Nor will I tell you my authority for acting like this.'
• The Gospel today describes the conflict that Jesus had with the religious authority of the time, after that he drove out the merchants from the Temple. The priests and the elders of the people wanted to know with which authority Jesus was doing those things: to go into the Temple and drive out the merchants (cf. Mt 21, 12-13). The authority considered itself the master of all and thought that nobody could do anything without their permission. This is why they persecuted Jesus and tried to kill him. Something similar was also happening in the Christian communities of the years seventy-eighty, the time in which the Gospel of Jesus was written. Those who resisted the authority of the Empire were persecuted. There were others, so as not to be persecuted, tried to reconcile Jesus’ project, with the project of the Roman Empire (cf. Ga 6, 12). The description of the conflict of Jesus with the authority of his time was a help for the Christians, so that they could continue fearless in the persecutions and would not allow themselves to be manipulated by the ideology of the Empire. Today, also, some who exercise power, whether in society or in the Church and the family, want to control everything as if they were the masters of all the aspects of the life of the people. They even persecuted those who thought in a different way. Keeping in mind these thoughts and problems, let us read and meditate on today’s Gospel.
• Matthew 21, 23: The question of the religious authority to Jesus. “What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered: “And I will ask you a question, just one, if you tell me the answer to it, then I will tell you my authority for acting like this. John’s baptism, what was its origin, heavenly or human? Jesus went back to the Temple. When he taught, the chief priests and the elders of the people went close to him and asked: With what authority do you do these things? Who has given you this authority?” Jesus again goes around the great square of the Temple. Then appear some priests and elders to question him. After everything that Jesus had done the day before, they want to know with which authority he does these things. They did not ask which was the true reason which urged Jesus to drive out the merchants from the Temple (cf. Mt 21, 12-13). They only ask with which authority he does those things. They think that they have the right to control everything. They do not want to lose control of things.
• Matthew 21, 24-25ª: The question of Jesus to the authority. Jesus does not refuse answering, but he shows his independence and liberty and says: “I also, will ask you a question, if you tell me the answer to it, then I will tell you my authority for acting like this. John’s baptism, what was its origin, heavenly or human?” This was an intelligent question, simple as a dove and cunning as a serpent! (cf. Mt 10, 16). The question shows the lack of honesty of his enemies. For Jesus, the baptism of John came from heaven, came from God. He himself had been baptised by John (Mt 3, 13-17). The men who had power, on the contrary, had plotted or planned the death of John (Mt 14, 3-12). And in this way they showed that they did not accept the message of John and that they considered his baptism like something from men and not from God.
• Matthew 21, 25b-26: Reasoning of the authority. The priests and the elders were aware of the importance or significance of the question and reasoned in the following way: "If we say heavenly, he will retort to us. Then why did you refuse to believe him? If we answer human, then we have the people to fear, for they all hold that John was a prophet”. And therefore, so as not to expose themselves they answered: “We do not know!” This is an opportunist response, a pretence and interested one. Their only interest was not to lose their power over the people. Within themselves they had already decided everything: Jesus should be condemned to death (Mt 12, 14).
• Matthew 21, 27: Final conclusion of Jesus. And Jesus says to them: “Nor will I tell you my authority for acting like this”. Their total lack of honesty makes them unworthy to receive an answer from Jesus.
4) Personal questions
• Have you ever felt that you are being controlled without any right, by the authority of the house, in work, in the Church? Which was your reaction?
• We all have some authority. Even in a conversation between two persons, each one has certain power, a certain authority. How do I use the power, how do I exercise authority: to serve and to liberate or to dominate and control?
5) Concluding prayer
Direct me in your ways, Yahweh,
and teach me your paths.
Encourage me to walk in your truth
and teach me since you are the God who saves me. (Sal 25,4-5)