The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew the 21st Chapter
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also 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?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Lying, and tricks, and power plays, Oh MY! One group KNOWS they’re right because they have LOTS of power and money and with enough power and money can make even the horrible alright. Even cozying up to foreign governments is fine if it means winning! The other wing of that same group KNOWS they’re even MORE right than the first group because they are MORALLY right, with fanatical, fundamentalist, certainty. “Those people,” all over the country, should be FORCED to follow our faithful, fundamentalist ways! It’s how God ordained it!
You know, those two groups used to HATE each other with the fiery hate of a thousand burning suns! But here they’ve found a common enemy. That guy. That guy who keeps pointing out injustice. What’s worse is “that guy” gets people’s attention. Did he have to do THAT? Did he have to do it HERE? Couldn’t he do it, you know, in a way it would be easier to ignore? It used to be that the rich and powerful folks and the God and country folks couldn’t agree on ANYTHING. But since “that guy” came to town, the rich and powerful Chief Priests and the God and country Pharisees made a miracle happen! They found the one thing on which they could agree. Jesus has GOT to GO!
Jesus was a threat. He said the rich and powerful would be cast down and the powerless and poor would rise up. The Chief Priests WERE the rich and powerful, and the Pharisees knew the poor were obviously sinful, so you can imagine, neither were fans of Jesus! So, together they confronted Jesus and asked him “by what authority do you teach like this.” Their hope was to trip him up, or at least shove him out of the spotlight and they wouldn’t say no to an early grave for him either!
Jesus dodged the trap with a parable that made the rich and powerful Priests and the ultra religious, super pious, fundamentalist, Pharisees shake with anger. Jesus told them about two sons. One SAID he would get right to work but didn’t. The other defied his father in public, saying he wouldn’t work... but then actually went out and worked. Jesus told them, by way of this story, that God cares very little about what folks say, how they spin their story or even what they send out by carrier pigeon or even by little blue tweety bird! What God really cares about is WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Are you gonna DO something? Or are you just TALKIN’?
He was talking about faith, but faith, in Jesus’ day, wasn’t something that happened up here in the ol’ noggin. It wasn’t a list of things to agree to, it wasn’t a sticker for your car or liking and sharing a post to prove you loved God. Back in Jesus’ day, faith wasn’t something that happened in your head or even with your words. Faith was much more about what you did with your feet and your hands and your life. God, it turns out, pays WAY more attention to how you walk than what you say. That means, Jesus wasn't really asking the rich, powerful, and puritanical if they thought John the Baptist had good ideas. He was asking them if they had started LIVING like John the Baptist! Clearly they hadn’t and that meant they were trapped. John the Baptist was the third rail of Palestinian politics… the rich, powerful and puritanical hated John, but the people LOVED him. So with one, little, tiny, parable Jesus got all of Jerusalem’s attention. Basically Jesus asked, "In all the time these rich and powerful, God and country people have been yackin', have you ever seen them DO anything"? Nobody had. They were all SHOW and no GO and God doesn’t watch the show. God’s MUCH more interested in the GO.
So, what’s GO look like? It looks like deep gratitude for what we’ve been given. It looks like seeing the person others look through as if they aren’t there. It's hearing that quiet voice that says, “this doesn’t feel right” when the rest of the world sticks their fingers in their ears and shouts, “LA LA LA!” It looks like a life lived in service… a life of little things done for someone else who can never pay you back. It looks like boosting a small voice so it might finally be heard. It looks like bringing healing, wholeness and life to everyone whether the world thinks they deserve it or not; whether they'll appreciate it or not; whether they'll ever even thank you for it or not.
That makes GO hard! So hard it’s impossible to GO all by yourself because it means not only feeding the hungry but asking why people are hungry. Not only caring for the poor, but asking why working 40 hours a week can’t earn everyone enough for a place to live AND food to eat. It means not only being charitable, but changing the world so that everyone has enough... enough food, shelter, self worth and dignity. But it’s only in living in the GO that we’ll realize along the way that we’re really living and finally experiencing a life that is full, real, abundant… and eternal.
The difficult twist to this parable is that in this parable Jesus is asking you and me the same question he asked the priests and pharisees. Are we all talk, or are we taking a real step toward who and what we value? Are we just show or are we GO? GO is HARD but it’s the path to a real, meaning-filled life… an eternal and abundant life, not just for ourselves but for the world. The other way… well, it just doesn’t go anywhere. So what’ll it be? TALK and SHOW or GET UP and GO? Amen.