It is easy to use inquisitorial questions to attempt to gain moral superiority over another person. Hide behind the question a sense of wrongdoing on the part of the one being questioned, sneak that assumption unvoiced behind the question, and fire away and watch the results as the person squirms. “When did you stop beating your wife?” assumes that you have a wife, that you have been beating her, and that (of course) beating her is something that, while you have stopped, previous to that you were doing.
Similarly, in our passage the religious leaders ask Jesus the authority question. What gave him the authority to do what he was doing? In this instance, the assumption is that Jesus had unwarrantedly taken authority to himself. They knew that, from a human level, the rightly constituted authorities were invested in themselves, that they had not given him authority, and therefore the question was specious in the extreme.
Jesus understands what is happening, and in the time-honored fashion, and with divine wisdom, replies by asking a question in return. The question is doubly wise for, as Mark explains their thinking in verses 31 and 32, it fixes them on a horn of a dilemma. They therefore “plead the fifth,” or refuse to answer, and Jesus having exposed their hypocrisy likewise does not answer their question.
Some people come to us with questions about God that are really masks for wanting to expose Christianity as being intellectually or morally unfounded. Others are genuine. It takes wisdom to know which is which. Sometimes we come to God with questions that are less actually seeking truth or more trying, howsoever foolishly, to establish our righteousness before him. Let us humbly seek God, seek his truth, and listen carefully to his answer and to his Word.
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