Like snarling dogs or coiled snakes, human authorities have some very obvious ways to send warning messages and make us pay if we ignore them. For his whole ministry, Jesus had made it abundantly clear that the Jewish religious leaders could snarl however they wanted, but their seniority and power connections did not intimidate him in the slightest. He felt free to say the most awful things about them, even to their faces. (Lk. 11.45-46) He talked down to them, the way a king might talk to religious authorities he was unhappy with.
In Freedom Week, he switched from talk to action, and he invaded their turf. He entered the Temple in Jerusalem and started giving direct orders, throwing out the rip-off artists who had legal, exclusive permits to do business there. Like fired employees, the sacrifice sellers were ordered to get out, and get out now.
This untypical power assertion ratcheted up the hopes of yesterday’s cheering crowds. They thought that surely Jesus, who had been cagily talking like a king for a long time, declaring that the reign of God was beginning, would confront the Roman authorities any minute now, ordering them out of Israel and forcing them if necessary. He would not be intimidated any more.
The crowds missed the fact that Jesus had never been intimidated in the first place. True, he had kept quiet when Herod stole his brother’s wife. John the Baptist had protested and gone to jail over that. But Jesus’ silence had to do with timing and strategy, not intimidation. Jesus freely chose when and how to confront the religious authorities, and he just as freely chose not to confront the political authorities through public protests or violence at all.
In fact, as we will see on Friday, the battered, bleeding Jesus told the judge Pilate to his face, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (Jn. 19.11) At the end of this life and death conversation, it was Pilate who was squirming, desperately looking for any way out, and it was Jesus, the condemned man, who was calm, firm, unshaken, locked in on his mission.
Intimidation cannot get any leverage on the person who commits to doing the Father’s will. The fulcrum for intimidation is our sin, our own view of what is best for us when God says otherwise. Remove that, and intimidation has lost the lever of power.
Affirmation: Authorities can threaten, they can punish, but they cannot define us or intimidate us. In Christ we are still free people.
Prayer: Lord, help me to know your timing for when to leave unjust authorities alone and when to stand up against them. And in the time to stand, help me stand.