>Did you catch the themes of last Sunday’s lessons? When the Gospel was proclaimed, did they click? Authority and belief jump right out at you, but I would like to save authority for another time and focus on belief, as belief is why we’re all here today, isn’t it? Still, that question of authority tempts because I believe we all buck it at one time or another, or wish we had more of it . . . just look what happened to the priests and elders when they approached Jesus about it.
I would have loved to be a butterfly on the walls of the Temple that day. It must have been a bit too much to swallow for these people in authority. In their structured, neat, and privileged world, one doesn’t buck the system, so they have questions for him, and they have a right to ask as those who uphold tradition and the law – but in this instance, the chief priests and elders aren’t really interested in a theological debate; they want Jesus to say that it’s God who gives him such power so they can bring him up on charges of blasphemy.
Jesus enters the Temple in Jerusalem and creates quite a scene. He disrupts the local economy by knocking over the money changers’ tables and driving out the merchants and their livestock. He heals people and children squeal and shout his praises and clamor at him.
“By what authority are you doing these things,” they ask; “and who gave you this authority?”
Jesus in true rabbinic tradition responds to their query with a question.
“Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?”
Looks like the ball rolled into the priests and elders’ court and they’ve got a problem. If they say John’s authority to baptize came from heaven, they’re at odds with Rome, with whom they cooperate, and if they say human, the crowds following Jesus and present during this exchange would probably riot, for John was revered as a prophet. So they take the middle ground, the safest route, and admit that they don’t know. They’re in a can’t-win situation. Jesus has the last word, of course, and ends this line of questioning by saying he’s not going to divulge the source of his authority. Then he pushes them a bit further, continues, telling a parable of two sons.
“What do you think?” Jesus asks. A man asks two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son says, no, but changes his mind and goes out to work. The second son says, yes, and doesn’t bother following through.
So which of these sons, Jesus asks, did his father’s bidding?
The priests and elders reveal their hypocrisy by saying it’s the first son. In so few words, they admit John’s authority came from God, for the first son can be compared to the tax collectors and prostitutes, the outcasts of a first century society that took honor and shame very seriously. They represented a less than holy way of life, but eventually they responded to and accepted John’s message to repent. These so-called sinners will be welcomed in the Kingdom of Heaven because they responded in belief to the messengers sent by God. On the other hand, the priests and elders were like the second son — people who profess to be righteous, but rejected John and all that he taught, even after they witnessed changed lives they still refused to believe; they continued with business as usual, saying “yes” to God, but never following through.
The message we can take from this scripture goes something like this — what matters most is what we actually do when God calls. Acknowledging what is correct, but not taking action, is a barrier to a true and heartfelt response to God.
It is through God that John and Jesus received their gifts of ministry, their exceptional powers and abilities to completely understand what it was that God required of them and accept what was asked.
All that we do and say in living out the Gospel and proclaiming it are gifts from God. We don’t have the particular gifts given to Jesus, but he gives us something wonderful – salvation and eternal life.
But is it really that simple, to say “Yes!” to whatever God asks and assume that’s good enough for now?
No, not really.
Do you find yourself at times eagerly promising God that you’ll go into the vineyard, and then getting distracted by just one more thing that has to be wrapped up before — ? I plead guilty on this count, as I’m sure some of you will. Do you find yourself thinking that just because you’re Christian you’ve got it all locked up and you’ve got a reservation for one of the bigger rooms in the house in the Kingdom of Heaven? Again, I’m guilty as charged.
I’m like both of the sons. Are you?
The good news is the Good News. We might rush to give God the right answer and hope that that will suffice for the time being, but Jesus is with us to show us how to love perfectly and act accordingly. We are invited to allow Jesus’ love and guidance, and our action to transform us into what God wants us to be.
Every day is another chance to get it right with God, that when we’re asked to work in the vineyard, we should go and do just that.
Easy enough, right?
If we are to do the will of God and give an authentic response, we need to embrace a life that reflects His love and the wonder of all creation.
The tax collectors and prostitutes responded and now it’s our turn.
The news throughout the world hasn’t been comforting or encouraging these past few weeks and now more than ever, we have an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel, using words, as Saint Francis once said, if necessary. If our words are true and bold, and actions follow that improve by one kindness someone’s life, and if our words are not lip service, or something convenient to satisfy the listener, then we honor Christ and model his holy work.
Come with me, friends. There’s work to do in the vineyard.
Are you ready?