Most modern Bibles entitle this section something like, “Jesus’ authority challenged.” This makes sense. Here Jerusalem’s religious leaders directly ask Jesus “by what authority” he’s doing the things he’s been doing. What gives him the right to act like a king (Triumphal Entry)? Who has licensed him to act as a spiritual leader (healing, teaching, symbolically cleansing the Temple)? Why does Jesus think he can challenge them? And that’s the real issue at hand. Jesus’ actions directly challenge their sense of political “power” and religious “authority.”
Nobody likes to be challenged. Most of us tend to respond defensively when that happens. Some of us get angry. Others even lash out in violence. As we walk through the next few days of Holy Week, we’ll see these predictable reactions on display. Predictable, because it’s easy to imagine ourselves responding in similar ways. It’s easy to see ourselves in the story—and we’re supposed to because this is our story too. We too stand in the mob and call for blood when things don’t go our way, when our “power” and “authority” come under threat. We too cry “Crucify.”
One of the gifts of Holy Week is seeing what real power and authority look like. Even as Jesus dialogues with these religious leaders, we know the hidden secret. Jesus is the One with true authority, with all the power. He is humanity’s one true Prophet, Priest, and King. When Jesus has his “authority challenged,” he doesn’t call down hellfire or dispatch legions of angels to his defense. Instead, like a lamb to the slaughter, he willingly goes to the cross. He lays down his life—and all the rightful authority that goes with it—so we who cling to our empty shadows of control might be set free from our illusions.
This Holy Week we’re invited to look to the cross and remember what real power and authority look like. This week, try to take time to reflect on the ways you cling to an unhealthy sense of your own power and authority. Are there areas of your life that should rightfully be given over to the One who is really in control? How might that set you free?