Jesus’ Authority Is Questioned
27 Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28 and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” 31 They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?”—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 33 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.”
Jesus turns this one right around, doesn’t he?
You have all these men in authority asking Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?”
Now let it be said there are two “things” that happen in Mark’s gospel immediately before this encounter. First Jesus enters the temple and overturns the tables of the buyers and the sellers of the sin offerings. Next he curses a fig tree that was not producing fruit.
Jesus reveals he has authority, not only over temple affairs, but over creation itself.
By what authority do you do these things?
Rather than answer, Jesus, changes the question: Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?”
A crowd stands watching. In front of such a crowd, the authorities cannot admit what they do not believe that John was a prophet. And, they cannot admit what they do believe that John is false because there are many watching who would shout them down.
I ask you, then, who has the authority over the authorities? Who is in control?
The Imitation Game, I believe, asks exactly this question. Turing is a mathematical genius who creates the first computer. He does so in response to a great need. He is one of the heroes of World War II. During World War II, the Nazis used a device known as the Enigma Machine to send encrypted messages to their war ships all over the world. They believed their code unbreakable.
The movie begins with a montage that suggests the Nazis are winning the war.
If the allies can break the code, then they have a way to turn the tide for they would know the location of the German fleet.
So enter the code breakers who spend their days trying to decipher messages. A few times, they’d crack the code in time. But more often all their work was for naught as the Enigma allowed the Nazis to change the encryption every day.
The problem for the code breakers is that the machine created a code where the number of possibilities was too many for humans to work through in a day.
Turing’s inspiration was the idea that only a machine could defeat a machine.
He sets out to develop a machine which can run through the alphabetical permutations faster than any human. However, the code breaking team is not pleased to have one of theirs dedicating his time to a project that, at first, seems unrelated to their daily task. There is trouble between Turing and the others. Turing’s arrogance does not help his cause.
He is unafraid to tell people they have inferior intelligence. And, when the leader of the project gets in his way, he goes right to the Prime Minister who, convinced, gives Turing the power to run the project. Immediately he fires all those he deems incapable of adding to a solution.
To replace those he dismissed, he puts a crossword into a newspaper saying “if you can solve this in less than 10 minutes, call for an amazing job opportunity.” This brings to him a room full of men and one woman. And, shout it out, the woman, at least in the movie, decodes the crossword before any of the men. Ms. Joan Clarke is added to the team.
Ms. Clarke is able to do what the others cannot, and that is to be his friend.
Because of her he is able to stop being so antagonistic towards his colleagues, even spending social time with them.
One night, when he is at a bar with the others, inspiration arrives.
As one of the code breakers woos a woman who records the intercepted German messages, she casually explains that, “I always know what the first line of my message will say because the one who sends it always begins with his girlfriend’s name.”
Let me explain.
Up to this moment, the decoding machine had so many possibilities to consider that even it could not finish the work in time for the allies to act on the information. The code breakers would stand there and watch it whirl and whirl and whirl.
Knowing that a message always had the same word on it would allow them to eliminate many possibilities from the beginning.
Let’s just take four random letters.
A X B L
And look at a most simple decoding, one where each letter stands for another. The letter can be itself.
Our alphabet has 26 letters.
If A can be any of the 26 letter, then X can be any of the 25 remaining letters letters, and B can be any of the 24 remaining letters and L can be any of the 23 remaining letters and so you have
26 x 25 x 24 x 23 possibilities…that is 358, 800 possibilities.
Now what if you knew this…what if you knew A = M
Now you have 1 x 25 x 24 x 23 possibilities… 13,800 possibilities.
Just by knowing one letter, you eliminated 345,000 possibilities.
From the few transmissions they had been able to decode, they knew that every transmission had the word “weather” and “Hail Hitler.” Suddenly, a machine which would whirl all day, never finishing, was able to lead the decoders to a daily solution.
The result of Turing’s work is they could puzzle out where every ship in the German fleet, every u-boat, was located.
With one phone call, they could save an entire ship full of lives.
if they did, if they saved everyone they could on that one day, the Germans would know the Allies had broken the code. That would lead to a new encryption machine with which they had no knowledge.
They had to control how they acted on their information. The movie suggests the mathematicians then created probability charts which told the back room commander where they could act and where they could not based on the likelihood of the Nazis inferring they had broken their code.
So who had authority over the generals in the field? The captains of the ships? The soldiers? The movie suggests it was a group of mathematicians locked in a bungalow in England. And, even they did not have final say…there’s that shadowy character who makes the final call, even to the point of allowing a spy on the decoding team, so he can provide misinformation to Russia.
The question Jesus asks in our scripture to confuse the temple folk seems so simple amidst this human craziness spawned by a madman.
Yet, the issue of control is at the center of their world too. The Pharisees and scribes and elders…they were the authorities, they had control, until Jesus showed up. They would not let go.
So then, the cross, the sin of man is laid upon Jesus.
Turing is no Jesus but he carries a load of sin laid upon him. Not only the world of World War II but also sin unfairly laid upon his soul.
Turing struggles with mental illness. He is introduced in the movie as one who, as a boy, would not allow the peas to touch the carrots. While that made him socially awkward, what made him an outcast in 1940 England is he was also gay.
When he is young, there is a friend named Christopher who shares Turing’s love. They are best friends. But when Summer turns to Fall and the students return to the Boarding School, Christopher does not. In an interview with the headmaster, Turing learns that Christopher has died.
Turing’s loss of his earliest love leads him to do some unsavory things. After the war time project is over, while he is a professor, the police have reason to arrest him. He is tried and found guilty, his homosexuality made public. Since homosexual behavior was illegal in England at the time, the court ordered him to take drugs which took away his ability to control his body and his mind.
The man who was given control over the project by which he saved the world from Hitler’s tyranny, is killed by society’s authorities who had not yet caught up to the idea that God makes all kinds of people.
The movie’s byline: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine” rings hollow to me. Turing was victorious over Hitler but was subject to as great a tyranny. The movie is tragic. At the end we do not celebrate a “We shall overcome” moment…it is “we shall be overcome.”
The tables of this world’s authority are overturned.
Sin no longer gets the final word.
Some trees with deep roots but no fruit are uprooted and thrown into a shredder.
Through the committed actions and prayers of the people of faith…Jesus Comes.
So we begin Lent with an Advent prayer…Come, Jesus Come…because there are still tables that need to be overturned where sin strangles out life and the trees we planted long ago no longer give good fruit.
Come, Jesus, come….
Overturn the tables
Uproot the trees of society’s deadening structures.
Come, Jesus, come…
so our energy, our love, our devotion to you…may release the captives; give sight to the blind; and let the oppressed go free!
Come, Jesus, come.