I have been thinking a lot about authority recently - mostly because if I am going to be a rebel, I would prefer to be a deliberate one than an accidental one. So, when I read this scripture passage this week, it started me thinking about stuff...
The Pharisees approached Jesus wearing their administration and tribal authority hats having heard of the reports of the miracles. I can see them asking the questions they asked with a mixture of renouncement "by what authority do you do this" in tones of "how dare you" and also questioning "by what authority do you do this" in tones of "how did you do this".
I think it is interesting that Jesus did not answer their question, but instead offered a trade. He would answer their question if they could answer his. But in looking at the question this time, I think it is more of a ink-blot question than a definitive doctrinal statement.
"The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?"
- From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?
- Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.
"The authority to administer ordinances - from heaven, of men, or what?"
- From heaven - then I need to change my actions to support those ordinances more (i.e. attend the temple)
- From men - then I need to change my expectations of religion, and consider making choices to serve humanity better (ie I may not pay tithing to fund the organization, but divert it to fast offerings, to charities, etc.)
- Insert 3rd option (mostly because I am striving to break out of binary thinking) - it seems to come down to a mixture of both "from heaven" and "from men" - i.e. Christian (non-LDS) baptism. I gather that in terms of administration, a person can switch some affiliations (ie Baptism to Methodist) without needing to be re-baptized.
- Insert 4th option - figure out the "meaning" behind the ordinances and shift the administration to match that. Our sacrament ritual includes water instead of wine - even though the original administration of the sacrament would have included wine.
I cannot tell - I don't know what I know, and I am not sure what I believe in this area.
FINAL ANSWER FROM JESUS CHRIST:
"Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things."
I don't think he is telling the Pharisees to be oppositional towards them. What if he can't tell them by the authority he does these things because it is outside of their faith narrative? Or what if it is because the answer "I am the Son of God" won't really help them to understand what that means and why that statement means He can do things they can't/outside of normal expectations.
What if it is like trying to explain how light bulbs work to a pre-candle citizen? or the well-known salt to an alien situation?
I mentioned the ink blot test earlier because I am increasingly of the opinion that the matter of authority is, like a lot of things, very subjective depending on the amount of authority required in a person's life to help that life run comfortably (especially in regards to others).
I am not a high authority person. I don't want to be an authority figure for my children (nor do I really want to do things "to set a good example for them"). I don't like it when others tell me what to do without context or explanation. I used to just accept that our church was an authority church - it works to help with some things and can be useful. For me, I treat authority different because I know I don't want/need much of it and others do.