By What Authority Do You Do These Things?
I never will forget the moment in college when I was confronted with the question “How do you know?” It was in an undergraduate philosophy class and I had actually never really thought about “how” I knew things. The fancy name for this is “epistemology.” Epistemology is the study of how we know. It turns out this is an extremely important question to ponder.
So, how do YOU know what you know? Do you “know” through study or rationalistic trial and error? Do you “know” through experience and observation? Do you “know” because you “feel” that something is so? Or is it a combination of all these? Frankly, we live in an age that really doesn’t contemplate this foundational reality. We live in an age where we assume that what we think we know is true and we all too often fail to examine why we think what we know is true. And that, my dearest, is a dangerous place to be because we make life choices, set our priorities, and live our lives based on what we think we know.
Look at our lesson today in Luke 20:1-8:
At that time, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to Him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question; now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know whence it was. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
As usual, Jesus is being confronted by religious leaders who think they “know” how all this God stuff works. They are convinced, and their conviction that they “know” isn’t based on some feeling or even their own egos. They are establishing their confidence on the assumption that they are following the traditions of those who came before them. They aren’t trying out something new. They aren’t trying to set some novel precedent. They are convinced they are in the right in confronting this itinerate rabbi from Nazareth.
And they are wrong!
But why? Why does what Jesus does and teaches reveal the flaw in their thinking and their whole worldview? Because they don’t go back far enough in examining why they “know” what they think they “know.” They fail to see beyond their immediate knowledge. They think that the problem with Jesus is that he doesn’t have the authority to do what He’s doing. And the reason this is so wrong is that they don’t “know” WHO He really is. He IS the Lawgiver, and the Lawgiver knows the Law and the “why” behind the Law better than anyone else. They think he’s just another loudmouth preacher, and they will not allow someone they “outrank” in their minds to act against the status quo! Their ignorance of the Lord’s true identity makes their choices too small, petty, and wrong. What you don’t “know” CAN hurt you!
So, the Lord pinpoints for them the spot where they went wrong. They were focusing on the authority of the Lord to do and say the things He was doing and saying. Jesus met them at this wrong spot and asked them to tell Him about John the Baptist’s authority to do what he did. Immediately these religious leaders started calculating the question, not based on facts or deep theological truths or even on why John was baptizing in the first place. They saw the whole question as a political trap Jesus was setting for them so they said they didn’t know the answer to Jesus’ question. The Lord responded the same. They were right about one thing: they didn’t “know” why John was baptizing because they had become strangers to repentance and that distance from a lifestyle of repentance made them unable to “know” how they knew. The centuries of preserving the traditions were useless to them because they had forgotten the “WHY” behind the traditions. It isn’t enough to repeat old words and old actions, you have to “know” the meaning BEHIND the traditions to truly preserve them!
St. Paramonus was a believer under the reign of the pagan Roman Emperor Decius around the middle of the 3rd century. During this time there was a pagan government official named Aquilinus. He was a slave owner and most of his slaves were Christians. You see, the Christian faith early on drew from the poorer members of society. Aquilinus had a certain illness that he hoped would be helped by visiting a natural hot spring where many people went in hopes of cures. He brought 270 of his slaves and all of these slaves were Christian. Aquilinus demanded his slaves all offer incense to the pagan goddess Isis, and every Christian refused. Aquilinus had every Christian killed right there. St. Paramonus witnessed this horror and immediately spoke out against this evil man, which, in turn, got him arrested. Aquilinus ordered the saint to be taken for punishment for speaking out against this slaughter, and the guards beat and manhandled St. Paramonus so that he died while being brought before the tribunal. But notice, what got St. Paramonus in trouble was his refusal to deny the reality of the dignity of these slaves who were his brothers and sisters in Christ. He refused to deny reality and not speak out even though he knew he would be punished. The fear of punishment wasn’t nearly as strong as this saint’s love of Christ and for truth.
Today, are you a stranger to a lifestyle of repentance? That means the hard work of staying attentive to your motives, your “epistemology”, and your actions that flow from the WAY you think. Allow your life to be formed by the wisdom of the timeless faith and the way you “know” will be the foundation of a “Normal” and truly purposeful Orthodox life.
P.S. Enlisted by Christ through faith and through your fervent love, you cut down the ranks of all the wicked enemies; and upon receiving the crown of victory, O wise Paramonus, and most godly Philumenus, you dwell now together with Angel’s hosts.