Taking Umbrage | Daily Office Devotional 2021/8/17

Again they 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.’

Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:

“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?’

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

Mark 11:27-12:12

Whenever we take umbrage at something being said to us, it is good to stay our anger and pause for introspection. Candidly reflecting on the source of our offence before God may give us insight into ourselves. Why did I react in anger to what was expressed? What is in my heart that caused me to be angry at those words? Is there something not right with me? Then perhaps we might be able to bring that before God in prayer and open ourselves to the sanctifying work of the Spirit in us.

In our passage today, the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem—the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders—took umbrage at Jesus when he openly criticised them. These ruling elites had entrenched interests in the continued status quo of Jerusalem and did not fancy Jesus stirring up trouble there or swaying public opinion against them with his teachings. Since they had jurisdiction over the temple complex, they hoped to arrest him by publicly confronting him with a question of authority and incriminating him with his own words. As none of them (especially the chief priests) had given Jesus authority to do anything in the temple, his disorderly behaviour (especially the “temple cleansing” episode) could make him guilty of transgression against God himself.

Jesus cleverly evaded their attempt by asking them a question about John the Baptizer’s baptism in return. This forced them into a difficult spot. When they finally pleaded ignorance to escape the quandary, they ended up publicly admitting their ignorance on spiritual matters instead! In that confrontation, the ruling elites of Jerusalem were forced to abdicate their position of authority, and in turn, showed Jesus to possess more spiritual authority than they without having to answer to them.

Then Jesus denounced them with a parable that diagnosed their spiritual condition: their hearts were unconcerned about the things of God and concerned only about their own privilege. They were, as the Protomartyr Stephen said years later, “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,” who were just like their ancestors who persecuted the prophets and “forever opposing the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7.51-52). As a result, they would be removed from their position in God’s Kingdom. Perhaps they could have averted divine judgement if they had paused to reflect on Jesus’ prophetic indictment of them and repented. Instead, they chose to take umbrage.

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