O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure
and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever;
the judgements of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold,
sweeter also than honey,
dripping from the honeycomb.
By them also is your servant taught
and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often they offend?
O cleanse me from my secret faults!
Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins
lest they get dominion over me;
so shall I be undefiled,
and innocent of great offence.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus and his disciples came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’
Many of us enjoy word games. For some the daily tussle with the tortured mind that put together the latest cryptic crossword is something to be viewed with eager anticipation. For some a game of Scrabble is the best thing ever. Whether these things excite you or leave you cold, most people admire those who can use words in a way that demonstrates mastery of language.
Words are so often used to assert dominance over those less articulate than ourselves. In today’s reading we see the learned Jewish chief priests, scribes and elders being outwitted by the wandering rabbi we know to be the Son of God.
Jesus did not live in an impressive palace, and Jesus would not have struck anyone as being particularly well-educated. As they approached Jesus with their ‘killer question’, they would not have expected the response they got. Jesus had no problem with explaining who he was, even if such knowledge could not be understood by the people amongst whom he moved, but first he required an answer of his interrogators. Jesus, the one whose ministry began with his being baptized in the River Jordan by John, asked the religious leaders for their assessment of that baptism.
The chief priests, scribes and elders were knowledgeable men and they immediately spotted the trap that had been laid for them. Should they respond with the truth, as they understood it, or should they be more political? As always in such situations, there was division, doubt and fear. To give one answer would result in undermining their power base, to give the opposite answer would bring them into physical danger. Even those educated chief priests, scribes and elders could not find the route out of the linguistic minefield into which they had unwittingly wandered. They ended up saying nothing.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be bold disciples and apostles, honouring and proclaiming the Good News of his Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension. But, we do not always do that. Even when we are confronted with the most straightforward of questions about our faith, we obfuscate, we prevaricate, we throw a veil over our beliefs. In effect, we deny Our Lord, we join Peter on that fateful night in the High Priest’s courtyard.
Today, and every day, Jesus is asking us: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Today, and every day, we are being challenged to show the difference that that baptism has made to us. Sadly, we don’t always prove ourselves to be better witnesses than those dithering chief priests, scribes and elders. We avoid the question, or we play with words in a way that ‘softens’ our answer, that makes it less overtly ‘Christian’.
Let us pray that we might, through the inspiration and the strength of the Holy Spirit, never fall into the trap of denying our Lord and Saviour because of our fear of the reactions of others. Let us go boldly about the world declaring our faith, and the joy of that faith, in Jesus Christ. Let us show the world what a difference that can really make!
Prayers of intercession
By the authority of Christ, given to his Church, let us pray to the Lord.
Grant that members of the Church, knowing the source of all power and authority, may humbly obey and cheerfully serve in their various callings. Keep us faithful in work and worship, that God’s will may be done.
Dispel the pride that holds people apart from people and nation from nation. Make your power acknowledged and your will accomplished through all the world.
Help us to discern and follow the right way in all our relationships. May your truth be made known in this community. Give wisdom to those who hold responsibility and make them agents of your law of love.
Relieve and comfort those who suffer from any kind of sickness. Empower those who care for them. Give new hope to those who have lost it through distress of body or mind.
We give thanks for the departed who have been brought to glory by the power of Christ. Confirm our hope in him when we come to die.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.
Prayer for the week
Grant us, O Lord,
the faith that rests not on signs and wonders
but on your love and faithfulness;
that obedient to your word
and trusting in your promises,
we may know your peace and healing power,
both in our hearts and in our homes;
for the honour of your holy name.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Put thou thy trust in God,
in duty’s path go on;
walk in his strength with faith and hope,
so shall thy work be done.
Commit thy ways to him,
thy works into his hands,
and rest on his unchanging word,
who heaven and earth commands.
Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676)
translated by John Wesley (1703–1791) and others