In today’s Gospel the chief priests, scribes, and elders try to throw their weight around, but Our Lord asks them a simple question that shows where their real center of gravity lies. They try to corner him with the question akin to “Who do you think you are doing these things?”, and he responds by asking them who they though John was. He’s not intimidated by their position, influence, or even their threats. Even when someone is in authority over us there is a level of dignity that no position or influence can take away, and that dignity is shaped by our conformity to the truth and to the just thing to do. They have a bankrupt position on their side; Jesus has the truth, and the truth is what sets us free.
From their narrow-minded interest in self-preservation they have a dilemma with no good outcome: to acknowledge that John’s work came from God, which would be to acknowledge that’s John’s testimony to Jesus before his death shows from where Jesus’ own work and authority comes, making their question to Our Lord pointless, or to acknowledge that John’s work did not come from God, which in the sphere of public opinion would be political suicide (maybe material suicide too). Although the passage doesn’t spell it out it’s likely that they thought John was just another effective political player. John sacrificed his life in the defense of an uncomfortable truth; the chief priests, scribes, and elders fear the consequences of publicly acknowledging what they believe to be true, and that shows their true center of gravity. As a result they choose to appear ignorant before the crowds in order to ensure their safety, and at the same time show that self-preservation is their greatest truth.
What’s our attitude before uncomfortable truths? Do we play them close to the vest so as not to get burned? Our Lord has promised that the truth will set us free. Let’s not be afraid of seeking the truth or testifying to it, especially when it means our discomfort or the discomfort of others in order to achieve a greater good.
Readings: Sirach 51:12c–20; Psalm 19:8–11; Mark 11:27–33.