Rev'd Megan Herles Mooar and Rev'd Rory Redmayne
MY SHINY VENEER
We read that Jesus was in the temple teaching.
“… The chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching and said, ‘By what authority are you dong these things, and who gave you that authority?’”.
Jesus responds by saying that he will ask the chief priests and elders a question and if they answer it he will answer their question.
Jesus proceeds to ask a question which at face value seems to be rather out of left field: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”.
The chief priests and elders were on the horns of a dilemma - a very uncomfortable place to be perched!
If they said John’s baptism was from heaven, then they could see that Jesus would challenge them with not following the one whose teaching and actions were of God.
If they said John’s baptism was of human origin they knew that would challenge the popular wisdom that John was a prophet - a man inspired of God.
So they said they didn’t know.
The scene ends with Jesus saying that he, then, would not answer their question.
As I thought about this episode my first thought was that Jesus was just being smart and scoring easy debating points.
This unworthy thought was followed by wondering why Jesus chose this question to challenge the temple authorities, especially as John the Baptist didn’t appear to be in any way pertinent to the current situation.
Why didn’t Jesus ask an apparently more relevant question like, “By what authority do you ask me that question?”.
It may be helpful to dismiss my unworthy thoughts about Jesus’ debating style and instead of proposing that Jesus might have asked a better question, to allow Jesus to be the all-wise Son of God and try to discern why he behaved as He did.
He was talking to people whom He perceived to be self-deceived; people who were deeply in need of repentance, forgiveness and new life.
But what Jesus saw was:
people whose study led them to think of themselves as
of superior intelligence and learning;
people whose fine liturgical garments clearly set them apart as being better than the common herd;
people of ample means, so admired (so they thought) that the congregation supported them by their contributions;
people full of self-confidence and pride in their position in society.
But this was all a veneer, consciously or sub-consciously designed to cover up the underlying, deeply damaged person who lay beneath; the person in vital need of responding to the challenge of John the Baptist.
Now, perhaps we begin to see why Jesus didn’t simply challenge the chief priests and elders’ authority to question him, or why he didn’t ask a more direct question.
Such an approach would have done nothing to challenge the authorities need to look inward.
Pompous recitation of their numerous degrees from the theological college of Jerusalem, and standing on the impregnability of their social position would, far from calling them to repentance, have merely thickened their veneer of righteousness, a veneer in fatal contrast to their inner reality.
So, yes, the question that Jesus did ask was far more likely to lead the chief priests and elders to search behind their veneers and find the real person that lay beneath than the alternative I mooted earlier.
Now this a deeply uncomfortable passage for today’s clergy to preach on; for WE are the modern day chief priests and elders.
We are the ones who by and large have the better theological education.
We are the ones who appear in fancy dress.
We are the ones whose stipends are paid by you, the congregation.
We are the ones who all too often appear to have ready answers for every question.
We do indeed do well to pause and look inward - to apply sandpaper not polish to our protective veneers.
However, before you gloat too openly at the discomfort of Megan, Cameron, Geoff and myself, let me finish by challenging you too:
As far as I know none of you are reformed prostitutes, or indeed repentant tax fraudsters.
As I look around most of us are self-respecting people who value our place in society.
Let this be the challenge: What is your veneer covering up?
What part of your hidden inner life is stopping you from properly knowing either yourself or God.
Have a look. Life could be so much richer.
About 750 words Filed as Sermon 20aSeptember
1. All Souls OT 26 8. 9.30, 11.30am 27 September 2020