Today’s readings are Mal 2:1-16, and Mark 11:27-33.
As I read today’s passages, I began to think about identity through the lenses of responsibility and authority.
For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.
God, through the prophet Malachi, rips into the priests because they haven’t lived up to the responsibilities of priests. God’s judgement is in effect, because they have rejected their identity as God’s priests through the dereliction of their responsibility.
There are certainly parallels between this passage and many of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees and teachers of the law in the new testament, and the responsibility they bear for the burdens and stumbling of the people they are meant to serve.
In our passage in Mark however, the focus is not on the priests, but on Jesus’ identity. Their question “by whose authority” is pretty important. Just one day earlier, as we read yesterday, Jesus—this itinerant rabbi and son of a carpenter from Galilee—arrived in the big city and caused a real ruckus at the temple, overturning tables and kicking out merchants. “By whose authority” sounds like a fair question. But is it one where they really wanted to discover the truth, or as Jesus apparently knew, had they already made up their mind? Remember v18 from yesterday?
And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
Ultimately “by whose authority” really means “who are you really?”. It’s no wonder this delegation chose not to answer Jesus’ return question. They had already made up their mind about who Jesus was. For if they were to accept his authority, they would have to accept his identity, and that has implications about their responsibility.
What about you? What’s your answer to who Jesus really is? When it comes down to it, the way you answer that question doesn’t change His true identity – it changes yours.