By What Authority?

Matthew 21:23-27 & parallels
Text is from the New Revised Standard Version 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

         In all three synoptic gospels, the following exchange between Jesus and the religious authorities in the Temple is told. In every one, a version of his turning over the tables of the money-changers, and scattering their animals, in the outer courts (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:13-19, Luke19:45-48) precedes this account. In Luke's format, it comes immediately before. In Mark's gospel, between the "temple cleansing"  episode and Jesus' encounter with authority, is the second part of a story about a "withered" fig tree (11:20-26). Earlier in the day Jesus, being hungry, came upon this then-healthy plant and found it without fruit. "May no one ever eat fruit from you again," he said (11:14). When the disciples next see this tree - after Jesus drove out the "den of thieves" - it is  now "withered," and they recall his earlier words. Jesus connects the withering of this fig tree "at its roots" with the withering of faith. The implication by its placement is that the roots represented by the chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel who here question Jesus' authority, are withering, faith-wise. Matthew's gospel records the fig tree episode in the same place, but pulls it together as one complete unit, with the withering of the plant happening instantaneously upon Jesus' curse (21:18-22).

         Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to the acclaim of the "hosanna" shouting masses (see "Blessed is the king who comes
in the name of the Lord
!")
, has drawn  anew the attention - and wrath - of the religious elite, who then witness his cleansing of the temple, and wonder "by what authority" he operates. 

Matthew 21:23-27

Mark 11:27-33

Luke 20:1-8

{23} 
         When he entered
               the temple,
   
                 the chief priests

           and the elders of the people
     came to him as he was teaching,
                       and said,
"By what authority
            are you doing these things,
       and who gave you
                   this authority?"
{24}        Jesus said to them,
"I will also ask you one question;
              if you tell me the answer,
       then I will also tell you
                   by what authority
                          I do these things.
{25}
Did the baptism of John
                      come from heaven,
           or was it of human origin?"
  
And they argued
                  with one another,
       "If we say, 'From heaven,'
             he will say to us,
'Why then did you not believe him?'
{26} But if we say,
                 'Of human origin,'
           we are afraid of the crowd;
                 for all regard
                      John as a prophet."
{27} So they answered Jesus,
          "We do not know."
    
And he said to them,
      "Neither will I tell you
            by what authority
                 I am doing these things.
{27} Again they came to Jerusalem.
            As he was walking
                  in the temple,
   
                       the chief priests,
                       the scribes,
                and the elders
                          came to him
{28}
               and said,
"By what authority
           are you doing these things?
      Who gave you
              this authority to do them?"
{29}     Jesus said to them,
"I will ask you one question;
                 answer me,
       and I will tell you
                   by what authority
                           I do these things.
{30} Did the baptism of John
                      come from heaven,
           or was it of human origin?
                  Answer me."
{31} They argued
                  with one another,
       "If we say, 'From heaven,'
             he will say,
'Why then did you not believe him?'
{32}
But shall we say,
                 'Of human origin'?" -
- they were afraid of the crowd,
            for all regarded
                  John as truly a prophet.
{33} So they answered Jesus,
          "We do not know."
    
And Jesus said to them,
      "Neither will I tell you
            by what authority
                 I am doing these things."
{1} One day,
          as he was teaching the people
                in the temple
            and telling the good news,
                      the chief priests
                and the scribes
       came with the elders
     
{2}                 and said to him,
"Tell us, by what authority
            are you doing these things?
       Who is it who gave you
                  this authority?"
{3}         He answered them,
"I will also ask you a question,
             and you tell me:
  
   
  
{4} Did the baptism of John
                      come from heaven,
           or was it of human origin?"
  
{5} They discussed it
                  with one another, saying,
       "If we say, 'From heaven,'
             he will say,
'Why did you not believe him?'
{6} But if we say,
                 'Of human origin,'
all the people will stone us;
           for they are convinced
                  that John was a prophet."
{7} So they answered
           that they did not know
                  where it came from.
{8} Then Jesus said to them,
      "Neither will I tell you
            by what authority
                 I am doing these things."

Matthew's gospel continues the conversation, with Jesus telling the following parable.

Matthew 21:28-32

{28}      "What do you think?
                    A man had two sons; he went to the first and said,
                           'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.'
{29}                                      He answered,
                           'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went.
{30}               The father went to the second and said the same;
                                      and he answered,
                           'I go, sir'; but he did not go.

{31}       Which of the two did the will of his father?"
                                                                          They said, "The first."
                                      Jesus said to them,
                     "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes
                                             are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
{32}                        For John came to you in the way of righteousness
                                                                                  and you did not believe him,
                                        but the tax collectors and the prostitutes       believed him;
                                               and even after you saw it,
                                                      you did not change your minds and believe him.

      

         Following a few manuscripts, some translations (NEB, NASB), reverse the order - wherein it is the first son asked who initially says "yes" but does not go, instead of the second. "The change in order may have been motivated by the order of salvation history, wherein the Jews first refuse the kingdom while the Gentiles later receive it." (Hagner, p. 612)

(for more on Matthew 21:23-32 see "The Text this Week",
lectionary sequence: Year A - Proper 21 (26) or Pentecost 19.
Neither Mark 11:27-33 nor Luke 20:1-8 are used in the lectionary) 

         Mark and Luke omit the above parable, but join in with Matthew at this point with another. The religious leaders fade a bit into the background, and we become aware that the crowds have been surrounding this confrontation, listening. It is no quiet encounter. 

Matthew 21:33-46

Mark 12:1-12

Luke 20:9-19


{33} "Listen to another parable.
 There was a landowner
        who planted a vineyard,
              put a fence around it,
              dug a wine press in it,
              and built a watchtower.
    Then he leased it to tenants
         and went to another country.
     
{1} Then he began
to speak to them in parables.
  
"A man planted a vineyard,
           put a fence around it,
           dug a pit for the wine press,
           and built a watchtower;
     then he leased it to tenants
        and went to another country.
      
{9} He began
         to tell the people this parable:
  
"A man planted a vineyard,
  
   
   
      and leased it to tenants,
          and went to another country
                for a long time.
{34} When the harvest time
                   had come,
he sent his slaves to the tenants
      to collect his produce.
     
    
{35} But the tenants seized his slaves
            and beat one,
                   killed another,
            and stoned another.
{2} When the season came,
    
he sent a slave to the tenants
     to collect from them
         his share of the produce
             of the vineyard.
{3} But they seized him,
            and beat him,
            and sent him away
                        empty-handed.
{10} When the season came,
     
he sent a slave to the tenants
    in order that they might give him
        his share of the produce
            of the vineyard;
    but the tenants
                    beat him
              and sent him away
                          empty-handed.
{36} Again he sent
              other slaves,
                        more than the first;
   and they treated them
             in the same way.
  
  
    
     
     
        
{4} And again he sent
           another slave to them;
  
 this one they beat over the head
             and insulted.
   
{5} Then he sent another,
          and that one they killed.
    And so it was with many others;
             some they beat,
                  and others they killed.
{11} Next he sent
             another slave;
    
    that one also they beat
             and insulted
        and sent away empty-handed.
{12} And he sent still a third;
            this one also they wounded
                     and threw out.
     
    
    
     
{37} Finally he sent his son to them,
                        saying,
          'They will respect my son.'
{38} But when the tenants
             saw the son,
       they said to themselves,
     
     'This is the heir;
            come, let us kill him
                 and get his inheritance."
{39} So they seized him,
 threw him out of the vineyard,
          and killed him.

{6} He had still one other,
                     a beloved son.
     Finally he sent him to them,
                    saying,
          'They will respect my son.'
{7} But those tenants
    
          said to one another,
      
    'This is the heir;
              come, let us kill him,
     and the inheritance will be ours.'
{8} So they seized him,  killed him,
 and threw him out of the vineyard.
     
{13}                    Then
        the owner of the vineyard said,
                 'What shall I do?
         I will send my beloved son;
   
          perhaps they will respect him.'
{14} But when the tenants
                saw him,
  they discussed it among themselves
               and said,
     'This is the heir;
                       let us kill him
  so that the inheritance may be ours.'
{15} So they
          threw him out of the vineyard
                and killed him.
{40} Now when the owner
            of the vineyard comes,
  what will he do to those tenants?" {41}        They said to him,
 "He will put those wretches
                   to a miserable death,
       and lease the vineyard
            to other tenants
                who will give him
    the produce at the harvest time."
{9} What then will the owner
             of the vineyard do? 
   
 He will come
     and destroy the tenants
       and give the vineyard to others.
     
           
  
  
    What then will the owner
          of the vineyard do to them?
    
 {16} He will come
                and destroy those tenants
     and give the vineyard to others."
  
  
  When they heard this, they said,
               "Heaven forbid!"
{42} Jesus said to them,
          "Have you never read
                 in the scriptures:
 'The stone that the builders rejected
       has become the cornerstone;
            this was the Lord's doing,
       and it is amazing in our eyes'?
    
{10}       Have you not read
                    this scripture:
'The stone that the builders rejected
       has become the cornerstone;
{11}        this was the Lord's doing,
       and it is amazing in our eyes'?"
 {17} But he looked at them and said, "What then does this text mean:
  
 'The stone that the builders rejected
        has become the cornerstone'?
    
      
 {43} Therefore I tell you,
              the kingdom of God
          will be taken away from you
               and given to a people
                    that produces
               the fruits of the kingdom.
           
{44} The one who falls on this stone
            will be broken to pieces;
                 and it will crush anyone
                      on whom it falls."
      {18} Everyone who falls on that stone
            will be broken to pieces;
                 and it will crush anyone
                      on whom it falls."
{45} When the chief priests
          and the Pharisees
                heard his parables,
       they realized that
          he was speaking about them.
{46} They wanted to arrest him,
  
       but they feared the crowds,
            because they regarded him
                      as a prophet.
    
    
   
   
 {12} When they realized that he had
         told this parable against them,
               they wanted to arrest him,
  
         but they feared the crowd.
   
   
    So they left him and went away.
{19} When the scribes
 and chief priests
  
 realized that he had told this parable
                against them,
      they wanted to lay hands on him
                  at that very hour,
 but they feared the people.
    
     
     

More resources on Matthew 21:33-46
can be found at
"The Text this Week."
lectionary sequence: Year A -
Proper 22 (27) or Pentecost 20)

Mark 12:1-12 is not used
in the lectionary cycle.

More resources on Luke 20:9-19
can be found at
"The Text this Week."
lectionary sequence: Year C - Lent 5, (Episcopal only)

      


comments 2002 Peter L. Haynes

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