The image of snatching people out of the fire from Jude’s letter is quite powerful. Salvation is a gift that quenches the fire that burns us whether our conscience realizes it or not. Baptism is this water that both refreshes our soul with divine life, and quenches the fire of condemnation. Those who ruled over the affairs of the temple were afraid of losing their power or status. They were not prepared to admit the truth because they were more interested in their positions of influence. It is unfortunate to see people who prefer trying to remain in control than acknowledging that their right to remain in power depends on their real authority. Jesus has real Authority, so he is not intimidated by their questions. He instead turned them back to John’s baptism of repentance. Jesus’ authority to save is absolute. He wants even to save these temple authorities who have lost sight of the essential. He would save them from the fire they ought to feel burning their blinded consciences. When any answer we may give to a question would result in something disagreeable, we may choose at that point to walk away or submit to the truth.
We pray in the Holy Spirit when we are moved by divine inspiration to ask for heavenly help, so that we may receive the good things which we cannot obtain on our own.1
MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR:
What is meant by “a cloak stained by corrupted flesh”? This is said of those who have a life stained by the lusts of the flesh. We all have clothes which bear the marks of our life, whether we are righteous or not. The person who has a clean cloak is one who leads a pure life, whereas the one who has a soiled one has got mixed up with evil deeds. Or a cloak may be soiled by the flesh if the latter is formed in its conscience by the memory of those evil deeds which spring from the flesh and which still work on the soul. Just as the Spirit can make a cloak for the soul out of the virtues which come from the principle of incorruptibility, so by analogy the flesh can produce an unclean and soiled cloak from the lusts which belong to it.2
The stained cloak is our flesh. However, we are not called to hate our own flesh as such but only the fact that it has been stained by sin, and we are called to work for its cleansing, so that what is carnal may become spiritual. However, this cannot be done in our own strength but only by the power of God, as Jude goes on to say in his closing blessing.3
It is as if Jesus had said: “I will not tell you what I know, since you will not confess what you know.”7 In this way knowledge is hidden from those who wrongly seek it principally for two reasons: first, when the one who seeks it does not have sufficient capacity to understand what he is seeking for, and second, when through contempt for the truth one is unworthy of having the subject of his inquiry explained to him.… So these critics were most justly set aback. They retreated in disgrace.4
The question is full of hidden irony: the stewards of the temple, whose authority is only delegated, are demanding that the Lord of the temple answer to them for his actions. Jesus responds, in typical rabbinic fashion, with a counterquestion. His repeated demand, Answer me, reverses the inquiry: now it is the Lord who is calling the stewards to account.5
Since they are not ready to admit their mistake, any further explanation Jesus might offer would serve no purpose.
This episode has many parallels in everyday life: anyone who seeks to call God to account will be confounded.6
From the way in which the story is told it is clear that Jesus wins the debate. Whereas the opponents set out to trap Jesus into claiming in public a divine authority for himself, they find themselves trapped by Jesus’ question into having to take a public position about the baptism of John. The opponents, of course, are the representatives and guardians of Jerusalem Temple piety. John the Baptist was a popular prophet in the area around the Jordan River. He proclaimed the coming kingdom of God and the need to prepare for the divine judgment that will accompany it. These were two different ways of being a religious Jew in the first century: Temple-centered or kingdom-centered. Jesus was associated with John and his style of kingdom-centered piety.7
This principle, which supposes in pastors the necessity of a lawful mission, was formerly, and may still be, triumphantly urged against Luther, Calvin, Tindal, Cranmer, and all the first pretended Reformers of the Catholic Church. For whence, said the Catholics, did these innovators derive their mission? Who sent them to preach? Who gave them authority to reform and alter the whole state of God’s Church? Let them shew their commission for this purpose, either ordinary or extraordinary. Unless they can do this, we have nothing to do with usurpers and intruders.… If it be pretended that they had extraordinary mission, immediately derived from God, why did they not shew their credentials, stamped with the broad seal of heaven; that is, why did they not by clear and evident miracles, such as Christ and his apostles wrought, attest their being thus extraordinarily commissioned for the extraordinary work of the Reformation? Without such proofs as these, no pretensions to an extraordinary mission, in opposition to the ordinary Church authority, can be admitted. Otherwise every fanatic or enthusiast, following his own caprice, may pretend to a call from heaven; and, upon this foolish plea, preach up his own dreams for the pure word of God, in contempt of all authority, whether of Church or State. If it be said that the missions of the first reformers were ordinary, and derived to them by the ministry of men, it behoves them to point out what men these were from whom they received this ordinary power. Were they Catholics or Protestants? Not Protestants, for they cannot name any such who commissioned them to preach; not Catholics, because the religion which Luther and his reforming brethren endeavoured to propagate, was a new religion, directly opposite to that of Catholics, and therefore could not be taught, in virtue of any commission from Catholics. And how can they preach unless they be sent? Rom. 10:15. If it be urged that Luther had received his orders in the Catholic Church, it is easily answered that this could not authorize him to commence preacher and teacher of another religion, any more than the orders which Mr. Whiston and Mr. Wesley might receive in the Protestant church of England could authorize them to teach a doctrine anathematized by that Church. Rutter.8
- ON JUDE. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 257). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATENA. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (pp. 257–258). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON JUDE. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 258). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPOSITION ON THE GOSPELS OF MARK 3.11.33. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 156). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Healy, M. (2008). The Gospel of Mark (p. 233). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
- Saint Mark’s Gospel. (2005). (p. 117). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.
- Donahue, J. R., & Harrington, D. J. (2002). The Gospel of Mark. (D. J. Harrington, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 335–336). Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
- Haydock, G. L. (1859). Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary (Mk 11:28). New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother.