05 March 2011

"Maybe" = Darkness

8th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

Jesus enters Jerusalem. He goes to the temple and drives out the moneychangers. The chief priests and scribes get wind of this and decide that Jesus must be executed for blasphemy. They are outraged at his violent expulsion of the moneychangers from the temple area, and they fear “him because the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching.” When they find Jesus, they ask him, "By what authority are you doing these things?" In more colloquial terms, they are asking Jesus, “Just who do you think you are?!” Rather than answer their challenge directly, Jesus put them to a test: “Was John's baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me." What is this question meant to test? Jesus wants the priests and scribes to either publicly accept his Sonship or reject it. Remember what happened when John baptized Jesus. A dove descended on Jesus and a heavenly voice rang out, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Jesus' authority to teach, to perform miracles, to chase off the moneychangers derives from his relationship to the Father. The priests and scribes cannot accept or reject this authority without risking their own authority or riling up the crowd. Seeing into their calculating hearts, Jesus refuses to answer their challenge. In other words, he refuses to reveal to them that he is the Messiah. When it comes to accepting or rejecting the Sonship of Jesus, there is no middle-ground, no negotiated answer. There is “yes” or there is “no.” 

Not unlike the priests and scribes who challenge Jesus' authority, we like our options kept open. “Yes” or “no” is too black and white, too either/or. What about the gray areas? The both/and? What about our freedom to explore, to experiment, to “grow into” an answer to God's call to holiness? Jesus is being a bit unreasonable here. Different people at different points on their journey have different spiritual needs. There's a variety of responses possible. Shouldn't we celebrate the diversity that we find among God's creatures as they stoke the divine spark within them? Well, yes, we should. Each of us responds to God's call to holiness differently, and we do have different spiritual needs along the Way. But before we can respond to God's call to holiness and before our spiritual needs can be met, we must say “Yes” to the question: is Jesus the Messiah? We must accept or reject the revelation that came with Jesus' baptism at the hands of John. “Was John's baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” Is Jesus the Messiah or not?

The priests and scribes calculate an answer to this challenge. Rather than boldly accepting or rejecting the revelation of Jesus' Sonship, they plot an answer that they believe will preserve their power and calm the crowd. What did they come up with? “We don't know.” Jesus could've enlightened them, but he chooses instead to leave them in their make-believe ignorance. He leaves them in the darkness they have created for themselves. Not unlike the priests and scribes, we too can choose to live in a self-created darkness. We too can calculate a response to God's call to holiness that leaves us with an imaginary sense of freedom, with the illusion that we are at liberty in the world. We can wander aimlessly, fooling ourselves into believing that we are masters of our own destiny, captains of our own ship. But darkness is darkness, chosen or not. We either accept the Sonship of Jesus, or we reject it. If we accept, we join his procession to Jerusalem and the cross and on to the brightness of our Father's house. There is “yes” and there is “no.” “Maybe” will only keep us in darkness.

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  1. I would ask a question about Friday's Gospel. The first part of the Gospel says: "Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve."

    What's the significance of this? Why would the writer include this seemingly meaningless passage?

  2. Malachi 3:1-3 speaks prophetically of the Messiah coming to the temple in careful assessment.

    Jesus is the Lord of the Temple, who must inspect its premises to determine whether the purpose intended by God is being fulfilled.

    John 11:57 makes it clear that there was a price on Jesus' head; an "all-points-bulletin" was put out for His arrest. Yet, He came into Jerusalem in the most public way possible.