Luke 20:1-8 (CEV)
1 One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and telling the good news. So the chief priests, the teachers, and the nation’s leaders 2 asked him, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”
3 Jesus replied, “I want to ask you a question. 4 Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”
5 They talked this over and said to each other, “We can’t say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John. 6 And we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize. The crowd will stone us to death, because they think John was a prophet.”
7 So they told Jesus, “We don’t know who gave John the right to baptize.”
8 Jesus replied, “Then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”
When Fear Backs You Into A Corner
Have you ever wondered why it was so hard for the Pharisees to say ‘yes’ to what Jesus had to offer?
The more time I spend steeped in the Gospels – the more I realize just how much the privileged, North American evangelical church I grew up in has in common with the Pharisees – the more intrigued I become about Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees.
We know that Jesus was kind to the poor and the broken and the marginalized and the outcast. We’ve seen that he offered dignity and respect and value and hope and life to people who had maybe never experienced those things before in their lives.
But there is also this recurring theme throughout the Gospels where Jesus calls out but also calls out to the Pharisees.
And I think that today’s passage is just one more of those instances.
You see, I think that Jesus wants the Pharisees to get it. I think that Jesus wants the Pharisees to let go of their fear and their reliance on power and their aspirations for perfection and discover what it means to live life ‘freely and lightly’ like Jesus offers.
But the Pharisees are afraid, and this is nothing new.
They grew up afraid.
They grew up being told that there were bad things that made God mad and good things that made God happy, and the only way for the ‘bad things’ to stop and the ‘good things’ to happen was if they kept all of the rules.
They grew up with the assumption that the rise and fall of Israel (substitute power structure of your choice) was going to be based on whether they – personally and collectively – kept these rules.
They grew up understanding that since you couldn’t actually keep all of the rules, you needed to make a really big show of the rules you were keeping and make sure that nobody found out about the ones you weren’t.
It’s a heavy burden to carry, but it is one that can easily be reinforced day in and day out by fear.
And Jesus – just days away from an execution he shows every evidence of knowing is coming – offers yet another way out of the fear and the legalism and the burdens and the rules and a way in to the Kingdom of freely and lightly.
He doesn’t attack.
He doesn’t condescend.
He doesn’t make excuses.
He simply offers another chance for them to think about whether this is actually the way that they want to do life.
But as is so often the case, the Pharisees allow their fears to back them into a corner.Journal Questions:
- How much of your life do you feel you live ‘freely and lightly’ in the way of the Kingdom?
- How much of your life do you feel you live backed into a corner by fear?
- Do you hear the invitation to the fearful in Jesus’ response?1 John 4:17-18 says this:17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
- What would it change for you today if this was true?
- What would change in how you approach others – especially those in power and those backed into a corner by fear – if this was true?