Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 34; 146, Lamentations 1:17-22, 2 Corinthians 1:8-22, Mark 11:27-33
Remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials where one person walked down the sidewalk carrying chocolate, another person rounded the corner carrying peanut butter, and they collided? “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” Then smiles as a voice announced: “Two great tastes that taste great together!” Religion and politics are the opposite of whatever that was: mix them together and it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
The chief priests, scribes, and elders of Jerusalem were politicians first and religious leaders second. When they asked Jesus by whose authority he cleared the temple of moneychangers and merchants, he responded with a question of his own: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” If they chose heaven, they would have to explain why they hadn’t believed him. If they chose human, the crowd would become angry. Their response did not hinge on what was true, but on what was politic. We don’t even know what they believed, because they said: “We don’t know.” The political press conference hasn’t changed much since then.
Because their politics undermined their moral authority, Jesus did not feel compelled to answer their questions. Perhaps we should take a similar approach to modern day religious leaders who rely on popularity to maintain authority. Many a pastor – regardless of personal beliefs – has refused to challenge a congregation on issues of inclusiveness for fear people might object and leave. Such silence is almost always interpreted as consent for the status quo. Religious leaders – ordained or self-proclaimed – seeking political office must depend on popularity to succeed, and that often means sacrificing integrity on the altar of electability.
Jesus did not compromise his mission, even as his followers turned on him. Paul may have adapted his style to suit an audience, but his message remained consistent. Neither dodged the difficult questions. We are wise to reserve our respect for religious leaders who do not pander, but tell us what they believe. Even when we disagree, integrity is a foundation for building relationships.
Comfort: It’s all right to question religious leaders when you question their motives.
Challenge: God has given you the ability to think for yourself. Use it.
Prayer: God of wisdom, grant me ears to hear the words of the just and righteous. Help me turn away from voices that lack integrity. Amen.