23When Jesus returned to the Temple and began teaching, the leading priests and elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?”24“I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. 25“Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?”They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask us why we didn’t believe John.26But if we say it was merely human, we’ll be mobbed because the people believe John was a prophet.” 27So they finally replied, “We don’t know.”And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.28“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.31“Which of the two obeyed his father?”They replied, “The first.”Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. 32For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins. Matthew 21:23-32
Standing in the shadows in the Temple, I shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other. Things are getting extremely intense. I don’t know if the crowds sense it yet, but the leading priests, the elders, the religious leaders definitely do.
Every interaction between Jesus and these leaders is a confrontation. A calling out by Jesus of the posturing and public hypocrisy these priests and Pharisees embody. The truth and conviction of Jesus’ words strike hard and the resulting fear is palpable.
But it is not truth that they fear. Nor is it this man Jesus that they fear. At least not in the way that perhaps they should.
Yes, they fear his popularity. Yes, they fear his ability to lead the people, their people, away from them. Yes, they fear his influence on the crowds. But they do not fear him, this man Jesus. This Son of God. This Word made flesh.
He is the One with the power to convict and the power to redeem. But they are not afraid of him.
Who do they fear? The crowds.
When pressed with Jesus’ questions or presented with Jesus’ parables, their anger flares. How dare he say such things about them. And like a defendant at his trial, like a witness under fire, they confer in whispered tones. They weigh their options. They consider the crowd’s reaction to their response.
As I watch them from the shadows, I can see that they convict themselves by their words and by their actions. They are not concerned with the truth Jesus offers. They are concerned with how they look. How they are perceived by others. How they appear to the crowd.
Watching them, I see myself in them and I sink deeper into the shadows to reflect on this revelation. This truth.
How many times have I worried more about what others think about me than what Jesus thinks of me? What the crowd thinks about these words I write. What the crowd thinks about me because I believe in and trust in Jesus. What the crowd thinks about my impetuous Simon-Peter convictions or my belief that right and wrong is not relative.
Growing up and even now, faith and life were considered separate pursuits. The first is lived out in private and the second is lived out in the world at large, and ne’er the two shall meet. Declarations of faith, of trust in Jesus were often met with a polite smile. With a patronizing pat on the head. With the sentiment, if that works for you.
And without pause, too often I chose the acceptance of others over my relationship with Jesus.
I was afraid of the crowds, whether the crowd was my family, my friends or the world at large. I wanted their acceptance. I wanted their approval. I wanted to fit in, to belong, to blend in.
And if I am not intentional, I fall back into this way of thinking. And this way of being. The world feels so immediate and their judgments so much more real. And they are. In a sense. On this side of eternity. But where does that leave Jesus?
Where does that leave me?
Every day offers abundant life, but that looks different depending on the lens through which I view it.
I can have joy or I can have happiness.
I can seek the crowd’s approval or I can accept Jesus’ reproach, repent and live redeemed.
I can live for today or I can live for eternity.
I can leak Jesus into the world and the lives around me or I can hide him and horde him, letting others fend for themselves.
This journey to Jerusalem is demanding. It requires more of me than I anticipated or could have imagined. And I am thankful for the opportunity to witness all of these things. These things that Jesus did and the events of his journey. And these things that are becoming a part of my journey.