Your sibling tells you to do the dishes. A teammate tells you to run more laps. A co-worker tells you to change projects. In each case, chances are you may retort with something like, “Says who?”
We all ask “says who?” at points in life when we want to know by what authority someone is commanding us (mom, coach, boss). It was no different for Jesus back in his day.
It had been a tough couple of days in Jerusalem for Jesus, his followers, the religious officials and the crowds (see Matthew 21). The crowds were puzzled by his presumably grand entrance into town — on a donkey, no less — and wondered, “Who is this guy?”
With the crowds, the religious officials watched Jesus cleanse the corruptions of the holy temple and of diseased human bodies, and exclaimed, “Do you hear their voices (do they represent a mob or a majority?)”
His followers were perplexed when Jesus demanded fruitful living from people (and even plants), and asked, “How do the living wither?” And then it came to a head when the religious officials demanded of Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?”
They threw it in Jesus’ face: “Says who?” At first glance, the conflict may seem to be about Jesus’ authority to act on God’s behalf. He demonstrated authority based on reason (logic of forced choice) and wisdom (a parable to open possibilities). He demonstrated authority over nature (fig tree) and tradition (prophesy fulfillment). But soon it became apparent that the real conflict was not in answering “says who,” but in refusing to believe that answer.
It was true then and is true now. We distrust and challenge authority and then have the temerity to deny that authority after it is named and demonstrated. We all seem to pick and choose our authority mainly if it suits us. We cite our preferred authorities and experts who say what we want to say, only better. No matter what evidence is presented, we reject it in favor of our prejudices.
And so we continue to demand of those in authority over us, “Says who?” Whether in homes, schools, houses of worship, athletics, government or the media, we defiantly cross our arms, ignorantly close our minds, and arrogantly confront those whom we mistrust and misunderstand.
Of course there is a difference between seeking clarification and snubbing counsel like head-in-the-sand ostriches. There is a difference between asking for accountability and pointlessly resisting like stiff-legged mules.
When authority is questioned and then answered with reason, wisdom and tradition, it behooves one to heed that rightful, righteous response. And besides, if they didn’t want to know, they probably should not have asked.
As it is, the real question that matters is put to each of us, “What do YOU think about the way of righteousness?”
Says who? Says Jesus and all great religious teachers.
* Timothy J. Ledbetter, DMin, BCC is hospice chaplain with The Chaplaincy. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org