Remember those old western movies where the “good guys” loved their horses and gave them great names like Silver, Trigger, and Champion? While the “bad guys” mistreated their horses and didn’t even bother to name them? That stereotype made it easy to know which cowboys (or cowgirls) to cheer for and which ones to boo. But real life isn’t that simple.
Take Balaam. He’s a prophet of a pagan god, so it’s no wonder he mistreats his horse—or donkey! (see Num 22:22-29). Before today’s scene, the king of Moab (he’s a guy who rides his horse into the ground!) orders Balaam to curse the encamped Israelites. But Balaam doesn’t. Instead, he praises the Israelites in beautiful poetic language and predicts a great leader will rise from their midst. (Do I hear a cheer for Balaam?)
The Gospel presents a similar situation. The chief priests and elders demand to know by what authority Jesus is preaching and working miracles. Jesus doesn’t answer. Instead, he throws a question back at them, the equivalent of: “How did John the Baptist treat his horse?” His accusers want to say, “He never gave it water,” but they don’t because they fear antagonizing John’s followers.
What are the lessons here? Be slow to label who or what is good or bad . . . or who is one of “us” and who is not. And instead of searching for things in life to boo, join the Band of Believers. They are always on the lookout for good things to cheer and good things to do.