It seems to me that self-deception is among the most pernicious types of bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16) that exist. By the very nature of the case, it is difficult for the truth to become clear to us because we have some sort of self-interest in believing a lie. This is the trap into which the leaders of the people have fallen in today’s passage, Mark 11: 27-33.
As this scene from the life of Jesus opens the representatives of the Jewish Sanhedrin, something like an ultimately authoritative judicial court, have been scandalized by Jesus’ clearing the temple of the “money changers” who were exploiting the most vulnerable of God’s people by taking economic advantage of the requirements for worship. This action by Jesus is a declaration of his authority over God’s house. The leaders of the people know this, and because they feel their power and authority threatened, the seek out Jesus to question him. Using a rhetorical technique typical of the rabbinic style, Jesus answers their questions with his own.
And then, like a parent who’s seven-year-old has just asked where babies come from, the Jewish leaders are stuck, panicked. Either answer they might give short-circuits their own self-serving authority and defers to God’s authority. Instead of a truthful, praise-worthy answer that honors Jesus as the true Son of God with all authority in heaven and earth, they lie. To themselves and to Jesus. They say that they don’t know if John’s authority, and therefore Jesus’ authority, has come from God or not. Though in their heart of hearts they seem to know the right answer, they confuse themselves and are rendered speechless, too afraid to give up what they see as their power and position.
The irony is that human power and position, rights and resources only extend so far, last so long. Bank accounts drain, someone more politically astute or well connected takes the coveted position, and what we once saw as a “right” becomes a burdensome millstone. These leaders’ self-deception and refusal to submit to Jesus’ authority was the path to soul-crushing sin and death.
And certainly, these men were not unique in the human experience. We are all tempted to sit in authority over God and the Scriptures, to justify to ourselves and others why our actions, words attitudes are just fine. We refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ power and authority over our own lives.
It takes courage to tell ourselves the truth. It takes God-given courage to say that we are a mess and that Jesus is the only remedy for our sin and brokenness. But just as Jesus longed to embrace those Jewish leaders in his arms and lead them back to right relationship with God, he longs to do the same for us. May God grant us all this type of courage in this season. Amen.