Sunday, September 25, 2011

Who Has Promised You Tomorrow?

15th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)
A parable of doing God's will

When he 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.


In today’s gospel lesson, we encounter Jesus conversing with some very angry priests and elders who are distressed because he has just driven the moneychangers out of the temple. In their rage they question Jesus asking, “By what authority do you do these things?” After some verbal sparring Jesus declines to answer their question, but poses a parable instead.

As always, we know that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In this earthly story a father tells his two sons to go out into the fields to work. One brother says, “Yes, sir.”, but does not actually go. The other brother says, “No Way!”, but ultimately repents and goes anyhow. After telling the story, Jesus asks the provocative question, “Which of the brothers did the will of his father?”

On the surface, it appears that the second son did the will of the father. Although he said he would not go, he actually did go, making him the better son, right?

Well, this is the answer that the priests and elders gave to Jesus, and in response our Lord said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Now, I don’t have to tell you that those were fighting words! What could Jesus have meant? Why would he say that greedy tax collectors and immoral prostitutes would get into the kingdom of God ahead of the religious leaders?

The answer seems to lie in their willingness to hear and heed the good news. John the Baptist came declaring, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” The tax collectors and prostitutes repented and were baptized, but the chief priests and the elders of the people did not.

So, which son did the will of the father? Was it the son who said, “Yes, sir.”, but refused to go? Of course not, for he lied and was disobedient.

Was it the son who said, “No Way!” but ultimately went? Of course not, for he initially acted in a way that was disobedient and disrespectful toward his father.

So, which brother did do the will of the father? NEITHER. NEITHER.

Neither son did the will of the father. And this parable reminds us that as children of our Heavenly Father, we often say, “Yes, sir.”, when we mean no. Or “No Way!” when we ought to be joyfully skipping off to do the will of the one who created us.

Ah! Jesus’ story makes it plain to see that we are all equally in need of God’s Amazing Grace.

But, it is so easy to judge others, isn’t it? To point our fingers and declare that it is our brothers and sisters who are in non-compliance. It’s those people over there who won’t obey God. You know—those people. Those terrorists. Those child abusers. Those murderers…

But, today’s lesson seems to suggest that we are also those people. Those gossipers. Those gluttons. Those lazy prideful ones…

Thank God that today is a day of confession and forgiveness. Thank God that we daily confess our need for God, our distance from God, our failures before God. Thank God that in response to our heartfelt confession, we discover again and again that God’s grace is always enough and it is continually outpoured upon us—and upon all of God’s people.

Those people—Those sinful people. Those beloved people. Those forgiven people. Those set free people.

Today, I hear the words of Paul to the Church at Phillippi. He says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

My friends, this deserves a “Hallelujah Praise!” In his book The Mystery of Easter, Hans Balthasar writes of the kenosis, or self-emptying of Jesus. He says, “What is at stake, at least in a perspective of depth, is an altogether decisive turnabout in the way of seeing God. God is not, in the first place, ‘absolute power,’ but ‘absolute love.’”

Aren’t you glad that Jesus did not insist on holding on to the power that was rightfully his own, but willingly—and lovingly--gave everything away that we might inherit eternal life?

I wonder if this is our call, as much as it was Jesus’? Could it be that we are called to believe, by faith, that as we give ourselves away—we do not become poorer—but richer instead?

We become rich in love. Rich in hope. Rich in joy. Rich in peace. We find ourselves joyfully responding to God’s call and acting with expediency as we attend to the needs of our brothers and sisters. In fact, we find that as we serve others, we recognize the common humanity in all people. For there is none righteous, no not one…

St. Augustine once said, “It may be that you say to yourself, God has promised me forgiveness, whenever I reform; so I am safe. Tomorrow, when I amend my life, God will pardon my sins. You are right; what you say is true. That God has promised you pardon when you amend your life, I cannot deny. But tell me, I pray…Who has promised you tomorrow?...”

Today, we are invited to make confession to our gracious God who is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to gift us with eternal life.

It is my prayer that on this day the Lord would guide our ways to keep his statues still that God would grant us grace to know and to do his will…

I pray all of this in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.


f you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @

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