And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. Matthew 21:23-27
I have always read this passage as a warning to tell the truth and to try to live without guile. Guile can be defined as being cunning, deceitful and duplicitous. The chief priests and elders (who presumably know better) play politics instead of answering a very simple question. The chief priests and elders know where John’s baptism came from. Simply put, they lied. Jesus sets a trap with a very simple question. St. Jerome said regarding this passage, “The Truth cannot lie, so He replied instead, “Neither will I tell you.” By this He shows both that they knew the answer but were unwilling to say it and they He also knows this answer and will remain silent.” (Commentary on St. Matthew 3.21.27 from the Ancient Christian Commentary.) They should never have presumed to question Jesus’ authority. The nerve of some people.
Daily Readings in the Orthodox Church for August 11, 2009 1 Corinthians 15:29-38 and Matthew 21:23-27