"...the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders approached [Jesus] and said to him, 'By what authority are you doing these things?' ...Jesus said to them, '...Was John's baptism of heavenly or of human origin?'" – Mark 11:27-33
As much as we might be tempted to disagree with the chief priests, scribes and elders for challenging the authority of Jesus, they very well may have been asking a legitimate question. After all, according to Mark's Gospel, Jesus recently updated the teaching of Moses on divorce (chapter 10), told a rich man that in order to go to heaven he needed to give all his possessions to the poor (chapter 10), gave sight to a Blind Bartimaeus (chapter 10), caused a fig tree to wither (chapter 11) and overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple (chapter 11). Given this context, it seems appropriate to ask Jesus for some explanations.
The point, of course, is that the chief priests, scribes and elders were not asking for explanations so that they could know God more fully. They were challenging Jesus' authority so that they could protect their own authority, prestige and power. They perceived Jesus as a threat and therefore wanted to dispose of him. Jesus cleverly "turned the tables" on them by asking a question they dared not answer.
It seems that the real issue is not the questioning of authority but the method of questioning and the motivation behind the questioning. Given the long list of unorthodox activities in which Jesus was engaging and teaching, it seems appropriate for the church leaders of his day to question him and to try to learn more about him and his relationship with God. The problem is that according to the Gospels, the church leaders were not questioning in good faith. Rather than lovingly and humbly trying to learn more about Jesus, his beliefs, his relationships, his activities, his heart, they were trying to squelch him as a dissenter and teacher of questionable authority. Had the chief priests, scribes and elders of Jesus' day asked questions out of love, faith and humility, imagine what they would have learned from this person whom they perceived as a "dissenter of questionable authority" yet who we believe is the ultimate authority on everything.
God of wisdom, help us to come to know you and one another more deeply in love, faith and humility. Amen.
By Ken Reed-Bulley