Summary: The religious leaders questioned Jesus' authority. We know Jesus has authority, but does he really have authority over us?
Matthew 21:23-32 "Authority Issues"
God is a God of abundance and diversity. Looking around the worship area, it is obvious that we are very different people. We like to make things easy, though, so we often condense our diversity down to the basic essentials and say that there are two types of people. There are people who are reliable and people who are not. Some people can be trusted with a secret, while others announce it to the world. There are givers, and there are takers. We could go on and on. The list is almost endless.
In the gospel lesson today, Jesus talks about a man with two sons. Like most offspring, they are as different as night and day. The story of the two sons is a powerful one. It graphically portrays the different responses of people to God's love and grace. Though this story, Jesus offers a social commentary of the religious leaders, who were growing in opposition against him, and the crowds whose loyalty to Jesus was increasing. The story is also about us--you and me--and how we follow Jesus as his disciple.
QUESTIONS OF AUTHORITY
Today's story takes place on Monday of Holy Week; Jesus' last week on earth. Jesus has entered Jerusalem to the shouts of, "Hosanna in the high test!" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Jesus has cleansed the temple and earned the ire of the religious authorities. After a night spent with friends in Bethany, Jesus returns to Jerusalem and enters the temple.
Jesus is immediately confronted by the priests and scribes. They want to know what authority Jesus thinks he has that would allow him to overturn the tables of the money changers, disturb the well run but corrupt temple business, and cause a ruckus. Really it is a loaded question, because whatever Jesus answered would not be adequate authority for his actions.
Jesus answers the question of the religious leaders with a question of his own. In answering it the religious leaders would either convict themselves as hypocrites, or lose the favor of the crowds. They refuse to answer.
Framed by the animosity of the religious authorities, Jesus tells the story of the two sons.
MORE THAN TALK
We can readily identify with the characters in Jesus' story. We have either been a son or a daughter who acted in a similar manner to the sons in the story, or we have had sons and daughters who have acted that way.
The father goes to his first son and asks him to work in the vineyard. This is similar to working in the yard or taking out the trash. The first son says, "No," but later decides that out of love for his father he will work in the vineyard.
With his first son's response ringing in his ears, the father then turns to his second son and asks him to work in the vineyard. The second son immediately replies, "Oh, sure! I'll do that right away." But he gets caught up in the latest video game or football game and never fulfills his commitment.
When asked which son did the will of his father, the religious leaders reply that the first son, who eventually went out and worked in the vineyard, was the one who did his father's will. By their answer the chief priests and elders convict themselves. Because they are like the second son--religious people who say, "Yes." to God, but never back up their words with actions. Sinners, like tax collectors and prostitutes--those who first rejected God but have since then responded to God's love and grace and have followed him--are represented by the first son.
Of course, as we read this parable, we must ask ourselves which son are we.
TOWARD FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE
It is easy to get distracted from our walk with Jesus. Our lives are demanding. We have budgets to balance, bills to pay, bosses to please, soccer games and dance recitals to attend, relationships to nurture, and illusive goals to pursue. We attempt to balance our lives, manage our time, prioritize our objectives--in other words we try to make our lives sane.
We also get comfortable. We like the lifestyle that we have achieved and we are unsettled by the thought that it might change. We are creatures of habit and we do not like changes in our routines. We like safety and security and we do not appreciate being nudged out of our comfort zone.
All of this contributes to our acting like the second son; we say "Yes," but we never do it. Our actions do not back up our words.
We say that we want to grow in our faith and our relationship with Jesus, but we never take the time to get involved in a Bible study, or make room in our busy schedules for a time of reading the Bible devotionally, meditation and prayer.