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The Question of Authority by Blane Baker

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week One: Ave Maria

Saturday, December 9

Mark 11:27-33                           

By what authority are you doing these things? (Mark 11:28a)                   

Just prior to our focal passage, Jesus has cleansed the temple and declared it a house of prayer. From this day forward, the local authorities seek to destroy him. One day at a gathering in the temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders ask Jesus a question to challenge his authority. Sensing a trap, Jesus says he will respond once they answer a single question. Jesus proceeds to ask them whether the baptism of John is from heaven or from man. Immediately, they know they have been outwitted, and they refuse to answer saying, “We do not know.”

This question of authority reminded me of my first teaching experience. As a graduate student, I had taken a part-time position at a local community college. As the first day of the fall semester approached, I worked on my syllabus and rehearsed how I would explain the introductory material. My preparations went well, and I felt ready. On the appointed day, I arrived early for class and lingered in the back to acquaint myself with the room set-up. In the meantime, many of the students gathered and engaged in casual conversation. Before class began, one of students asked, “I wonder who is teaching this class.” With as much confidence as I could muster, I said, “I am.”  The students' chuckles let me know that my authority was in question. Over time, I proved myself to be an able “first year” teacher, and I earned more and more respect. On the last day of the semester, the students gave me a surprise party at the end of class. Their kindness helped me to appreciate the spirit of Christmas.

In our passage, Jesus does not experience the same kind of grace from the authorities; ultimately, he suffers betrayal and death. These events, like the birth of Christ, are shrouded in mystery. While mysterious to us, all are within the will of God.

During this time of Advent, many of us experience mystery and even an unwillingness to talk to God. We may be afraid; we may be sad; we may be distracted; we may be angry. Whatever our state, God desires a relationship with each one of us. In due time, all will be revealed. We will know more fully the mind of God, who sees reality in the context of time and space we cannot fathom. In seasons of mystery, we must trust in the God who never leaves us—even though we may not always feel His presence.

by Blane Baker

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