Have you ever felt like you should speak up, but didn’t? Perhaps you heard others spreading gossip or speaking ill of another person unjustly. Maybe you were part of a conversation in which truth was being ignored in favor of hearsay or speculation. You might even have been asked “point blank” what you believe; but you suspected that a truthful response would be unpopular at best — and disruptive at worst. And so, you chose to “soften” your convictions, or even say nothing at all. Well, if any of these situations sound familiar, you just might feel a little sympathy for the chief priests and teachers of the law who appear in today’s gospel lesson (Mark 11:27-33)
The religious leaders are upset about Jesus’ recent actions in the temple…and who wouldn’t be? He had barged into the holy place and created a scene, driving out merchants and overturning tables. Just imagine how you’d feel if someone came into your church and began shouting at people and knocking things over. So naturally, the religious leaders want to know: “By whose authority are you doing these things?”
But Jesus turns the tables by asking them a question instead: “John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or of human origin?” Now, it seems unlikely that the religious leaders thought John was a true messenger of God; after all, he frequently spoke against them! However, they were not prepared to say what they really thought — namely, that John’s ministry was of human origin — because, the Bible says, “They feared the people.” (v. 32)
Of course, maybe they were right to fear the people…because they were wrong! Based on what we know from the rest of the scriptures, John’s baptism was from heaven. But one can’t help but wonder: How might this situation have ended if the religious leaders were more concerned about truth than they were about public perception? Might this have created a space for dialogue in which both they and the people they feared were given an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of Jesus and what God was doing through him?
Having said this, however, let me add that when we speak up for truth we don’t have to be jerks about it. One of Peter’s epistles tells us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” But then it goes on to say, “But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
May we feel empowered today to “speak the truth in love,” trusting that when we do this, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)