September 25, 2005 - Pentecost +19

Matthew 21:23-32

• 23 Jesus had entered the Temple and was teaching when the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the Jewish authorities came to him and asked, “What authority have you to act like this? Who gave you authority to do all this?”

24 Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you a question, only one. And if you give me an answer, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. When John began to baptize, was it a work of God, or was it merely something human?”

25 They reasoned out among themselves, “If we reply that it was a work of God, he will say: Why, then, did you not believe him? 26 And if we say: The baptism of John was merely something human, beware of the people: since all hold John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what right I do these things.”

 28 Jesus went on to say, “What do you think of this? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said to him: ‘Son, today go and work in my vineyard.’ 29 And the son answered: ‘I don’t want to.’ But later he thought better of it and went. 30 Then the father went to the second and gave him the same command. This son replied: ‘I will go, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 Which of the two did what the father wanted?” They answered, “The first.” And Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you: the publicans and the prostitutes are ahead of you on the way to the kingdom of heaven. 32 For John came to show you the way of goodness but you did not believe him, yet the publicans and the prostitutes did. You were witnesses of this, but you neither repented nor believed him."

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

• 23. Jesus is what we would call today a simple layman. He respects the priests of the people of God and their high priest. He shows however that if they want others to be accountable, for their part they must be ready to take a stand on the things of God when the people need this. They had been and were unwilling to give such a response in the case of John the Baptist.

• 28. This parable refers to the refusal of the chief priests to recognize John the Baptist as a messenger of God.

A good number of sinners were converted by John’s preaching and confessed their sins. Such people were well disposed to receive the message of Jesus that opened for them the kingdom of God and showed them the true face of God the Father. Because of that, they were ahead of the priests, who were indifferent to John’s call, for they felt neither the desire nor the need to change.

Every parish that carries out a mission experiences the same thing: many uncommitted Christians will neither work as missionaries, nor receive them, believing they do not need conversion.

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Comments by Wesley

1. At least say "Yes" if you can't yet act "Yes".

2. Jesus asked a question about which of the two sons did what was wanted. The response was the first. Note that Jesus didn't immediately say, "Right!" He moved into a conversation about repentance.

Might Jesus have said, "You are not far from the presence of GOD," if they had responded, "Both"?

"The Father" seems to want both intention and follow-through.

You see, we can't see what happened between the heart and the tongue and the hand. Was an initial "Yes" changed by running across an injured person? Was an initial "No" changed by entering a similar situation where the tables were reversed and insight came?

Without some compassion for both we get caught in the downside of authority, making judgments without sufficient information or compassion. In our choosing we reveal our lack of authority and our distance from those we choose against.

3. Obviously this sort of thing happens within congregations and the leaders available. Lives change and those we were able to count on are no longer up to their responsibilities, even though they say, "Yes" and give it their best shot. Lives change and those we never were able to count on because of their constant, "No" come forth in a crisis, learn, and become reliable.

It is difficult to keep up with life changes. It is a task, though, well worth the doing for the sake of the common good of not expecting more than is doable or giving up before a next opportunity comes along.

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