They were once again in Jerusalem. As Jesus was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him and asked, “What authority do you have to act like this? Who gave you authority to do the things you do?”
Jesus said to them, “I will ask you a question, only one, and if you give me an answer, then I will tell you what authority I have to act like this. Was John’s preaching and baptism a work of God, or was it merely something human? Answer me.”
And they kept arguing among themselves, “If we answer that it was a work of God, he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’” But neither could they answer before the people that the baptism of John was merely something human, for everyone regarded John as a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know,” and Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you what authority I have to act as I do.”
In French the expression “mauvaise foi” refers to dishonesty, insincerity. Literally it means “bad faith.”
In today’s gospel reading we witness how Jesus masterly unmasks his opponents’ “mauvaise foi” or “bad faith.” They challenge his authority to cleanse the temple (this latest action of his had hit them in their most sensitive spot—their wallet—for the temple business was a major source of income for them). Jesus counters their challenge by questioning them about the validity of John the Baptist’s ministry. Now, since they refused to believe in John, they should have answered that his ministry was purely of human origin—if they had been honest. But in the parallel version of this incident as given in Matthew’s gospel, they admit among themselves, “we fear the crowd” (Mt 23:26). And in Luke’s account they add “then all people will stone us” (Lk 20:6). In other words, these religious opponents of Jesus are more concerned about their personal safety than about the truth. Which shows their bad faith. They want to save their skin rather than live up to their true convictions.
What should we answer to Jesus if we were in their shoes? How far do we carry honesty?
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