Neither will I tell you… ( 03.01.2008 )
Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?”
But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things:
The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.”
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33)
My children, the problem raised before us by today’s Gospel reading is gnoseological. The knowledge of the One True God, as we know from the Holy Fathers’ teaching and from our small personal experience, is acquired only through painstaking several-year struggle for building an inner ascetical-graceful union with God. In this struggle for knowledge of God, at the first stage of spiritual development the energy of the mind is what is purified, at the second stage it is the essence of the mind, and at the third stage he who has transformed both his body and soul will be able to see with his physical eyes the uncreated light and glory of God.
The chief priests, scribes, and elders of that time—by the Gospel testimony, abiding by the rules of the law only outwardly, both practically and intellectually—obviously do not have a true union with God and therefore cannot by experience come to know and see that the Man Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the awaited Messiah. However, Jesus’ person and works provoke in them exactly this question. Thus, part of them, with the asked question, in fact wish to find out from Jesus whether He truly is the Son of God. The existence of such interest in them can be observed also at another point in the Gospel, when they ask Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).
Their outward approach, that is, seeking to come to the knowledge of Truth in an easy and quick way—as an answer to a question asked—in the best case is only witness to self-loving and insincere people who wish to secure their personal positions and prosperity through reliable and timely information. Moreover, this is while they still think and hope that Jesus Christ will establish an earthly kingdom. In the worst case, as it happened later, seeking an affirmative answer from Christ, by the same people to the same question, was only the reason for His betrayal, condemnation, and death on the Cross: “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” (Matt. 26:63).
Another part of the chief priests and scribes, though, as it happens, are only interested in the nature and source of His authority, because the miracles He performed had been obvious to all: “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” Their approach, too, is outward and is only testimony to self-loving and authority-loving people who hope to realize and satisfy the passion of their vainglory through certain mystical and easily acquired knowledge. Certainly, they, too, upon seeing they cannot come to that knowledge and that authority in such way, will see to it how to kill Him i.e. how to get rid of the Bearer of that wondrous authority, Who utterly outshines their human glory and position that far. Déjà vu.
Therefore does Christ answer their question by a question, giving them the chance (just as to all of us) to repent: “The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?...” Yet, instead of repentance, we are all witnesses to cunning and paranoid reasoning, to calculating, the ultimate aim of which is care for one’s status, one’s positions, one’s authority, care for satisfaction of one’s passions: And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. Thus, wishing to avoid the answer to the tough for them question in the easiest possible way, the chief priests and scribes say, “We do not know.” This, “We do not know.”, in fact is involuntary confession regarding their spiritual state and the sole reality for them. It is an expected answer by those who do not know from experience, as we have already mentioned, that the knowledge of God springs from the life in God and takes place inside the purified, from the passions, heart.
We should not underestimate the fact that the Godman Christ gave the chief priests and scribes a real opportunity to get the answer to their question—But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.” It would have sufficed they to have only sincerely admitted and answered that John’s Baptism was from heaven for their spiritual eyes to open and they to recognize the Son of God in the Man Jesus Who stood before them. Nonetheless, man obviously hardly gets rid of his vainglory and hardly humbles himself.
Christ’s answer is terrifying: “Neither will I tell you.” The horror of His answer does not consist at all in that He does not want to answer them, but in the fact that He knows that even if He tells them, in vain will He waste His words; that speaking, in this case, would be something like casting pearls before swine. Who ever wants to cast his pearl before swine? This answer of Christ is just another witness that Truth cannot be discerned outwardly, only with the intellect, the reason, but first of all inwardly, with graceful and prayerful illumination of the mind in the purified heart. Whereas, the chief priests and scribes of that time, by the Gospel testimony, are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness (Matt. 23:27-28). Since they are not inwardly purified, opened and prepared for Him, and since they do not have graceful union with Him, they cannot even if intellectually come to know the truth about Him, even if He proclaimed it to them. And He told them many times, with His works… (John 10:25). They have personally disabled and condemned themselves not to get the answer from Christ; it is not that He did not want to answer them.
My children, the basic presupposition to understand the moral of this Gospel reading is comprised in the words of Christ: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17). High self-esteem, vainglory, manifested as disobedience, is the greatest, and perhaps even the sole hindrance to our spiritual development. Repentance i.e. permanent awareness of our ill-condition and sinfulness, manifested as perfect obedience, is the sole sound foundation for proper beginning, for proper continuation, and for proper perfection of our spiritual life and knowledge in the Church. It suffices for us to sincerely take a look at our deeds, words, and thoughts under the prism of the evangelical ideal of Christ’s commandments. If to someone even this is not enough, then let him compare his life to that of Christ, particularly we who are ‘at His place and in His image’… Lord, have mercy…! Most Holy Theotokos, save me!
Metropolitan of Strumica Nahum
(as recorded by the Sisters)