“What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

John 2:18

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

John 2:13-25

After Jesus has his little run-in in the temple, the authorities ask him what authority he has to cleanse the temple.

Come to think of it; this is a valid question to ask. It is a valid question to ask of ourselves too, particularly if we ever find ourselves in a ‘temple situation’. And we must be brutally honest with ourselves.

By what authority do we do anything? There is a range of answers here, some good – and some very bad. The worst is a kind of appeal to power – ‘Because I can’. This is closely linked to a desire for power, more often than not, a desire to take power for the sake of personal benefit: “It’s my turn to eat at the trough!”

Then there is authority based on tradition: it’s always been done that way! Which is a mistaken understanding of tradition. Tradition is, at best, a mixture of continuity and change. A tradition can sometimes become outdated – losing its original purpose or even proven wrong. Holding to such traditions is not heroic. It is blindness. Some ‘traditions’ are invented; by repetition, they become more ancient than they are – particularly if we conveniently forget their origins.

Far better authority is that which is based on principles and knowledge. One sees a bad situation, analyses what the problems are, embraces core values or principles, examines better possibilities and acts, rooted in values and not for oneself or a sectoral interest, but for the greater good for the most persons affected. 

Ask yourself: when faced with claims to blind authority, do I conform or resist? Am I blinded by the cult of celebrity or personality? How do I understand tradition? Why do I do so? If I resist, do I imagine something new – and on what grounds do I claim my authority? 

Loving God,

Give us Christ’s strength to discern legitimate from illegitimate authority;

May the Spirit guide our responses in a way that gives us the strength of sound authority.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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