Pastor Michael Frye:
In our gospel lesson today, the chief priests and elders challenge Jesus with the question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
This encounter was shortly after Jesus had cleansed the temple of the money-changers and proclaimed, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.’ ”
So, they were very angry with Jesus and came to challenge him.
Of course Jesus was never short on a comeback, so he responded:
“I will ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
They knew he had them over a barrel.
If they said heaven, Jesus’ heavenly authority would also be authenticated; if they said of human origin, they would be negating the authority of John the Baptist, and the crowd would mob them.
So, they had to acknowledge their ignorance on the matter, and Jesus went unchallenged.
But Jesus didn’t stop there; the story he told of the two sons was actually a lesson for the Chief Priests and elders.
The son who told his father he would go to work in the vineyard and failed to go represented the Chief priests and elders who had made promises that they would be faithful to God’s will.
Although they certainly fulfilled the letter of the religious laws, their attitude toward the poor, the sick, and those who were foreigners was abhorrent and certainly fell short of fulfilling God’s command to love your neighbor as yourself.
They abused the authority God had given them by re-defining the very Biblical laws that were intended to be a guide for humanity’s being in relationship with one another; and in so doing, they created a class system in which those who followed the rules as they interpreted them were considered to be good, and those who did not fit their definition were considered to be bad and unworthy of God’s love and salvation.
The son who refused to go at first, but who later changed his mind, represented the outcasts, the tax collectors, the Gentiles who had gone their own way rather than God’s, but who heard John’s words and chose to obey and follow the path that led them to Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t praising either of these groups of people.
Both sets were flawed because neither had fully been in compliance with God’s wishes.
There are people who will immediately promise anything, like the chief priests and elders who held themselves up to be models of Piety and righteousness, but who failed to deliver on their promises.
And there are people who put on the air of being hard-headed and materialistic; yet, behind the scenes, they may be performing acts of generosity and kindness.
The lesson to be learned in this passage for us is that the way of Christ is in our performance of our role as disciples – following through on what we know to be God’s will for us, rather than making promises that we ultimately fail to keep.
There is a call to prayer that is used in some worship services:
“Jesus, draw me close; closer, Lord, to you.
Let the world around me fade away.
Jesus, draw me close; closer, Lord to you.
For I desire to worship and obey.”
Obedience to God’s will comes first and foremost in our ability to follow the path that Jesus has set before us.
It isn’t easy to do, because at our baptisms some pretty heavy promises were made:
–to live in relationship among God’s faithful people,
–to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
–to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through Word & Deed,
–to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and
–to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
These are some pretty heavy promises, and being human, we don’t always follow through on fulfilling those promises; yet, God still loves and forgives us every day.
But, God does expects that we will begin every new day with the intent to continue to use the authority God has given us to tell the Good News about Jesus, to reach out in love and mercy to all of God’s people, and to be the church in the world that Christ has called us to be.
We are human.
Humans make mistakes.
Humans stumble and fall.
However, humans who have turned their lives over to Christ, who admit our mistakes, who ask for forgiveness, and who are serious about doing God’s work in the world, are given the chance and the authority to boldly proclaim God’s salvation and mercy through thought, word, and deed.
That, sisters and brothers in Christ, is who we are called to be, and with God’s help, that is what we are called to do.
In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,