Third Week of Advent: Monday   10 comments

Above: A Catacombs Image of Jesus

The Authority of Jesus

DECEMBER 18, 2023


Numbers 24:1-7, 15-17a (Revised English Bible):

But now that Balaam knew that the LORD wished him to bless Israel, he did not go and resort to divination as before.  He turned towards the desert, and before his eyes he saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe; and, the spirit of God coming on him, he uttered his oracle:

The word of Balaam son of Beor,

the word of the man whose sight is clear,

the word of him who hears the words of God,

who with opened eyes sees in a trance

the vision from the Almighty;

Jacob, how fair are your tents,

Israel, your encampments,

like long palm groves,

like gardens by a river,

like aloe trees planted by the LORD,

like cedars beside the waters!

The water in his vessels shall overflow,

and his seed shall be like great waters,

so that his king may be taller than Agag,

and his kingdom lifted high….

Then he uttered his oracle:

The word of Balaam son of Beor,

the word of the man whose sight is clear,

the word of him who hears the words of God,

who shares the knowledge of the Most High,

who with opened eyes sees in a trance

the vision from the Almighty:

I see him, but now now;

I behold him, but not near:

a star will come forth out of Jacob,

a comet will arise from Israel….

Psalm 25:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

LORD my God, to you I lift up my heart.

In you I trust:  do not let me be put to shame,

do not let my enemies exult over me.

No one whose enemies exult over me.

No one whose hope is in you is put to shame;

but shame comes to all who break faith without cause.

Make your paths known to me, LORD;

teach me your ways.

Lead me by your faithfulness and teach me,

for you are God my saviour;

in you I put my hope all day long.

Remember, LORD, your tender care and love unfailing,

for they are from of old.

Do not remember the offences of my youth,

but remember me in your unfailing love,

in accordance with your goodness, LORD.

Matthew 21:23-27 (Revised English Bible):

He [Jesus] entered the temple, and, as he was teaching, the chief priests and elders of the nation came up to him and asked:

By what authority are you acting like this?  Who gave you this authority?

Jesus replied,

I also have a question for you.  If you answer it, I will tell you by what authority I act.  The baptism of John:  was it from God, or from men?

This set them arguing among themselves:

If we say, ‘From God,’ we will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the people’s reaction, for they all take John for a prophet.

So they answered,

We do not know.

And Jesus said,

Then I will not tell you either by what authority I act.

The Collect:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


There was no separation of religion and state in First Century C.E. Judea.  The Roman Empire occupied the Jewish homeland, and competing Jewish sects assumed positions relative to collaborating with the Imperium.  The Temple at Jerusalem was the seat of collaboration, and next door a Roman fortress towered over that complex.  The politics of architecture was impossible to miss.

So Jesus maneuvered a political minefield for years.  (His crucifixion occurred in this historical and social context.)   The Gospels record that religious authority figures asked Jesus questions designed to entrap him and thereby to get him in trouble with the common people or the Roman imperial government.  Yet Jesus, being intelligent and perceptive, understood these facts and answered artfully.  This day’s Gospel reading tells of such an occasion.

The authority of Jesus came from God, of course.  This authority is unassailable, a fact that has not prevented people from attacking it.  Yet the good news is this:  God has won.  God wins.  God will continue to win.

Thanks be to God!


Written on June 1, 2010


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