Monday of the Third Week of Advent
(Numbers 24:2-17.15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)
After United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld’s tragic death nearly fifty years ago a controversy arose regarding his stature in history. To many he was a hero – one who worked tirelessly for the poor of the earth confronting the powers while living like a monk. To others he was an activist trouble-maker whose celibacy shielded homosexual practice. A recent biography correlating his famous journal Markings with a factual account of his life published eight years after his death strongly asserts the truth of the former evaluation. Hammarskjöld’s story mirrors the controversy at the heart of today’s gospel.
Jesus is being harassed because he, in the terms of Pope Francis, is a “minister(s) of mercy above all.” He dialogues with sinners so that they might appreciate God’s love for them. He champions simple hearts who cannot follow the burdensome rules of the Pharisees. When the Temple authorities question him regarding his authority to take such stands, he deftly discerns their purpose and throws a similar question back at them. Unable to answer without losing face with the people, the Jewish leaders withdraw their pursuit of Jesus for a time.
Not all confronting authority are heroes. Some indeed are rogues, and others may be misguided. We must discern before passing judgment and giving support. Perhaps even more critical, however, is our perspective on authority. We should respect it until there is good reason not to. But we shouldn’t ingratiate ourselves to it, or we may find ourselves – quite unlike Jesus – compromising justice.