01 June 2013

No Bobbing and Weaving!

Justin Martyr 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

The Pharisees and scribes—finally fed up with Jesus' teaching and disruptive behavior—ask Jesus a straightforward question: “By what authority are you doing these things?” “These things” includes using a whip to clear the temple area of moneychangers. Why would his enemies care by what authority he causes a near-riot in the temple? It would seem that Jesus' behavior alone is enough to discredit him in the eyes of the crowd. So, why ask about his authority? There is a long history among God's people of prophets being sent to straighten out the messes caused by the ruling religious elite. The Pharisees and scribes do want to discredit Jesus on religious grounds, but they also want to make sure that he's not a real God-sent prophet. They both want to know and do want to know who he is. This ambivalence leaves them teetering btw action and inaction, btw their religious power and the anger of the crowd. When challenged by Jesus with a simple question, the elites fall back on a time-honored political dodge. They answer, “We don't know.” They do know! But they don't answer b/c the consequences of doing so are just too much to bear. For us, “we don't know” is never an answer to the question of Jesus' identity. He is the Christ. Then, now, always. 

The Pharisees and scribes claim not to know whether or not John's baptism is of divine origin. Maybe they don't know, strictly speaking, but they do have an opinion on the question. But because they are afraid of the crowd and even more afraid of who Jesus might be, they claim ignorance. This is a dodge pure and simple. You can almost hear the groaning and jeering of the crowd when they start to bob and weave. We can guess is Jesus is pleased with this dodge b/c he's not yet ready to fully reveal his identity. Their “we don't know” allows him to dodge their original question, thus preserving the Messianic secret for a while longer. That secret—that Jesus is the Messiah—has long since been revealed, so we cannot honestly say, “We don't know by what authority Jesus did all those things.” By what authority did he teach, preach, heal, admonish; by what authority did he choose the apostles, commission them, send them out; by what authority did he establish the Church, invest her with his own authority, and preserve her from error? We can't say that we don't know. We can't safely dodge these questions. There's no crowd waiting to riot if we answer incorrectly, but there is the sin of deceit and the possibility of scandal if we start to bob and weave.

If Jesus is who he says he is—and he is—then certain truths follow naturally from this single truth. If Jesus is the Christ—and he is—then the Church is his body working in the world; Francis is the successor to Peter and Christ's steward on earth; the Church mediates divine grace to her members; all the baptized are each a priest, a prophet, and a king; the Eucharist is true food and true drink, and so on. In other words, the truth of everything we believe about ourselves as Christians rests on the question of Jesus' true identity. So, why would we ever hesitate to loudly proclaim that Jesus is the Christ? Like the Pharisees and scribes, we face popular pressure; threats to our own identity; threats to our need for control; pressure from elite factions of our country and culture; we may even feel pressure from within the Church to bob and weave when applying the Gospel to contemporary problems. Remember the Pharisees and scribes: they are ambivalent, teetering btw truth and fiction, left dangling with nothing but their naked pride showing. Our yes must yes and our no must be no. There is no maybe in preaching the Good News. Either Jesus is who he says he is or he isn't. If he isn't the Christ, then why are you here? If he is, then shout that Good News from the rooftops and make known the saving power of God! 

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  1. Have to give this one a "Meh." I thought you were preaching without a text when you began, and you didn't find your rhythm until the final paragraph. The first two paragraphs felt like you were searching for something to say, starting down one path and not quite finding what you wanted, so you turned around and went back.

    I did appreciate the final paragraph, though.

    Reading it, I chuckled each time you wrote "tittering" . . . gave a different mental image than "teetering" ;-). Made me think of the Life of Brian movie.

    1. Yea, I got a late start on this one and the coffee wasn't good.

    2. "...the coffee wasn't good." That doesn't mean what I think it means does it? ;-)

    3. It means that I was desperate enough to drink some of the stuff made by one of the other friars instead of the Good Stuff! :-(