September 29, 2002

Matthew 21:23-32

Then he was back in the Temple, teaching. The high priests and leaders of the people came up and demanded, "Show us your credentials. Who authorized you to teach here?"

Jesus responded, "First let me ask you a question. You answer my question and I'll answer yours. About the baptism of John - who authorized it: heaven or humans?"

They were on the spot and knew it. They pulled back into a huddle and whispered, "If we say 'heaven,' he'll ask us why we didn't believe him; if we say 'humans,' we're up against it with the people because they all hold John up as a prophet." They decided to concede that round to Jesus. "We don't know," they answered.

Jesus said, "Then neither will I answer your question.

"Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, 'Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.'

"The son answered, 'I don't want to.' Later on he thought better of it and went.

"The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, 'Sure, glad to.' But he never went.

"Which of the two sons did what the father asked?"

They said, "The first."

Jesus said, "Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God's kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn't care enough to change and believe him.

[The Message]


1. The credentials we need depend on who is doing the asking. Are we simply talking paper certification of having spent some requisite amount of time and money? Are we going to put forward some degree of experience or expertise? Is it a matter of knowing who we are and proceeding, regardless?

So what credentials impress you? They are probably the ones that you will trot out when you are being questioned about your authenticity.

Do you think you can get away with not responding to accusations against you? It takes a "non-anxious" presence or a "self-differentiated" person to pull this off. If this is new language for you it is past time to hie yourself off to a systems resource.

2. I've always appreciated that the issue in the story is not about right answers but upon behavior. We tend to get too caught up in good appearances, "good answer"s as they say on Family Feud.

3. Changed lives is a good benchmark to pay attention to. Where are lives being changed in your neighborhood. Is it at AA meetings? Is it at your congregation? Is it in an advocacy group?

If it is not happening where you are, be bold enough to risk someone asking for your credentials as you deal with crooked CEOs and whoring accountants. Yes, you can put your own favorite folks in there as you live with them to help make a change in them. It might be crooked leakers of war plans that make war more acceptable. It might be whoring tax cutters who have only one answer to every problem and don't recognize the line from the new UM hymnal supplement, The Faith We Sing (2177) - "tax and tithe are for a purpose shared to shield the poor and weak." It might be just plain crooks who thieve and kill. It might be just plain whores.

This is a call to make a difference as you are called to the vineyard.

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