The Twentienth Sunday after Pentecost — Proper 21A (9/28/2008)

It's All about Authority

Lessons: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 Psalm 25:1-9 Philippians 2:1-13 St. Matthew 21:23-32 Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Prayer of the Day: God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those thngs that harm us, and guide us in the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

21:23 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?" 24 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. 25 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?' 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." 27 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.

28 "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29 He answered, ‘I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir'; but he did not go. 31 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. 32 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.

St. Matthew 20:1-16, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

When I first moved to the Denver area in 1998, I made the acquaintance of a local businessman who, like me, had a love for flyfishing. He had acquired a 1/8 share of the "Tee Pee Fishing Club" which owns a couple acres of land, immediately downstream on the South Platte River from the fabled "Wigwam Fishing Club." (You gotta love a group of fly fishermen with a sense of humor!) Although a bit less pretentious than Wigwam members, Tee Pee members were every bit as protective of their fishing rights, and nobody was allowed to fish their section of the South Platte without their permission.

My friend had a meeting at the Tee Pee one day, and he invited me to join him. We had a bite to eat, and when they started talking business, he invited me to head out on my own for a time. Eagerly, I made my way down to the water, and started working upstream. I had only been fishing for a few minutes, when I rounded the bend and came face-to-face with a seventy-year-old fishermen, loaded to the gills with well-used Orvis equipment. He looked at me with particular disdain, and said: "And who are you?" Not, "What are you doing here?" or, "Who invited you here?" Who are you? What authority do you have to be doing what you are doing? Give me one good reason why I shouldn't call the police, or the game warden, and have you cited for trespassing!

When Jesus enters Jerusalem for the very last time, he is met by cheering crowds who wave palm branches and shout out, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" (21:9) He enters the Temple, and immediately throws over the tables of the money changers and of the sales staff from the local dove supplier. (21:12) The next morning he curses a fig tree that won't provide fruit for him, and the tree immediately withers. (21:19)

After these events, a group of seventy-year-old Temple insiders comes ‘round the bend, and meets him face-to-face. They look at him with particular disdain, and ask him, "And who are you?" Not "What are you doing here?" or "Who invited you here?" Who are you? What authority do you have, to be doing what you are doing? Give us one good reason why we shouldn't arrest you.

Jesus meets them head-on with a question about the authority of John the Baptist (a question they could not answer), and then he tells them a story about authority. It is obvious in this story that one of the characters ultimately honors the authority of his father, while the other doesn't. As if the story isn't clear enough on its own, Jesus explains it to them. Tax Collectors and Prostitutes are responding to Jesus' ministry, and it is changing their hearts: they will enter into the kingdom of God. Temple officials who deny the authority of God (present in John and Jesus), and refuse to be changed: they will be left behind.

The question at hand is this: Who is giving God authority in their lives? And the answer is this: Those who are experiencing Christ, and whose minds have been transformed by his love.

The chief priests and elders of Jesus' time are so caught up with their own authority, that they have no capacity to be transformed by God's. The tax collectors and prostitutes are so open to the authority of God that they experienced in Jesus, that they are transformed by it.

May God's touch in our lives have the same affect!


David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. Why were the chief priests and elders unable to see the authority of God in Jesus?
  2. What happened to tax collectors and prostitutes who experienced God as they met Jesus?
  3. Why were the Temple authorities not able to see the truth, when the lives of others were being so powerfully changed by Jesus?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. When do I resist God's authority in my own life?
  2. When has God's authority turned my heart and mind around?
  3. How might I share that experience with others in a way that touches them as well?