From the Pastor's Desk
We speak in Christ's name pure and
sincerity of heart conscience of having
been sent by God....
St. Paul (2 Corinthians 2:17)
Many folks can TALK a good show. (Politicians come to mind.) We have a number of sayings around this theme. For example: Talk is cheap! Actions speak louder than words! Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action! Mere lip service! You can’t fool the heart with words! (A variation has :You can’t fool a woman with words!) Action conquers fear!
What we respect are actions that back up words.
In the lead-in to today’s Gospel (verses 23-27), the chief priests and the elders question Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” They are more concerned about who authorized Jesus than they are about the “things he is doing.” On one occasion Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath (see Mt 12:9-14). The religious leaders asked, “Who gave you the right to do this on the Sabbath?” They could have said, “Nice job!” But they never really saw the withered/cured arm. They only saw an action that didn’t fit their words. Of course, their question about authority was a well-planned trap, or so they thought. If Jesus says he does what he does by his own authority, he admits to having no legitimacy from his faith tradition. If he says he acts on God’s authority, he infringes on their power as guardians of the law and the official interpreters of what comes authentically from God. Jesus turns the tables on them saying, in effect “I’ll answer your question if first you answer mine. Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” Jesus answers their trap with a trap of his own. If they say, “From heaven,” Jesus can say, “Then why did you not believe him?” If they say, “of human origin,” the crowds will turn on them because they regarded John as a prophet.
Jesus put them in a dilemma. If they say John spoke/acted by divine authority, then they have to account for the fact that they did not accept him. If they say John acted on merely human authority, the people will turn against them because they believed that John was sent by God. Either way, they do not look good! And of course, looking good was soooo important!
But even the answer they do give, “We do not know,” makes them look bad. They are the religious leaders; they are supposed to know.
Today’s Gospel picks up at this point. Jesus addressed those same religious leaders with another question: “What is your opinion?”
One author writes: This is a classic ploy of the prophet. He tells a story and asks his listeners to make a judgement, to evaluate the characters in the story. They are usually quick to respond for they are people with firm opinions and unyielding judgements. What they do not know is that by judging the people in the story they are judging themselves.
If those leaders endorse doing over saying, they have to acknowledge the change of mind that brought the first son to obedient action. And that is the message Jesus wanted to get across — the need for a change of mind, change of heart. Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached repentance, that a change of heart is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God.
Even if the religious leaders were against John the Baptist at the beginning, they should have been able to see that John’s preaching had the power to convert sinners. But they rejected John. That is why Jesus says to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Oh, how much that must have galled them! Jesus went on to say, “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe in him.”
It is easy to see in this account why Jesus “had to go.” If you don’t like the message, get rid of the messenger! John the Baptist and Jesus had to be silenced at all costs. “It is better for the people that one man should die. . .”
Another author writes: The parable of the vineyard, like the one of the Last Judgment, is unique to Matthew. The theme of saying vs. doing runs throughout his Gospel. It is what you do, not what you say, that opens the door to eternal life. In Jesus’ story of the Last Judgment, the king does not say to those on his right, “I was hungry and you said you would bring me food” or “I was naked and you told me you would get me some clothes.” Similarly, here the son who does his father’s will is the one who does the work, whether he said he would or not. Even the chief priests and elders agree. Yet they are not “walking the walk.” Tax collectors like Matthew are. They turned away from sin and followed Jesus and are now teaching and preaching and anointing and healing and doing the actual work of building the kingdom of God. What you said before is irrelevant; what is important is working in the vineyard today.
The key question from todays scriptures: What are you turning from and what are you turning to? Every day we face choices — between right and wrong, between justice and injustice, between love and bigotry, between life and death. Each day we must consciously turn toward good.
“Dear Padre” page courtesy of:
Mahn Funeral Home
Peaceful Ridge Cemetery
Mausoleum - Monuments - Cremation
900 Main & Mahn Ave - De Soto, MO 63020 - 636-586-2288/515 Collins Ave.-Festus, MO 63028 - 636-937-4444