Let your Yes... Be Yes

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May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your Sight, our Lord and Saviour, Amen

Many sociologists will tell you that world today does not respect authority anymore

            It is easy to see breakdowns in societal institutions compared to 60 years ago

Some would claim; gone are the days of respect for teachers and principals

People say that teachers are treated poorly and kids get away with everything

No longer do people trust the Church or the government

What with the all the scandals and infighting, how can you respect ministers,

and politicians…well, don’t get me started

On Thursday evening I listened to only about 15 minutes of the GTA candidates debate on CBC Radio – and it seemed like the only thing each candidate was out to do was to attack the other party’s track records of broken promises

No longer can you trust what news you read or hear

You need to consider the source and the politics behind it – if you have ever listened to Fox news in the US – it is very pro-republican

And the moderator of Thursday’s debate greatly favoured the NDP and their environmental and socially conscience initiatives

Respect for the relational institutions is also threatened

The authority of elders and the sanctity of the institution of marriage

A thing of the past, some might say

Consider the province of Quebec, where once the Roman Catholic Church had a firm grip on many aspects of society

Now, faster than anywhere else in the country, churches are threaten to close and the marriage rate is the lowest anywhere in the country

Authority is under attack

And appears to be the subject of our gospel reading today

The Chief priests and the elders ask Jesus "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" (Matthew 21: 23)

And the reading concludes, perhaps strangely, with the parable of the two brothers…

            Is this a reading about authority or is about two brothers and who gets the work done?

To understand this parable and the religious leader’s questions about authority, it helps to understand the context, the setting, which are the Bible verses before and after the story. 

Like a diamond, its beauty can be enhanced by the right setting. 

And so it is with scripture; the setting enhances the meaning

What Jesus has been doing prior to their question is teaching in the temple;

Before that, healing; before that, cleansing the temple;

Before that, accepting cries for saving help – “Hosanna!” – As Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem

And so the religious leaders have this rabbi, this Jesus from Nazareth constantly challenging the areas that they would have had authority over

And they are threatened

The question is an ancient one. It echoes from temple, as the chief priests and elders asked Jesus, “Who gave you this authority?” It was a loaded inquiry, embedded with the understanding: we certainly didn’t give it to you.[1]

The chief priests and elders are apparently expecting the name of a teacher; a human association that will help them better understand Jesus' actions.

You see in Hebrew teaching, rabbis became well known – they would have schools of thought

And you will still hear Rabbi Akiva or Rabbi Maimonides said this or that

If you can identify someone's teacher, then you can better grasp what they're all about.

More to the point of our story, they are prepared to counter any and all claims to human authority with their own authority.

At least as far as the local Jewish status quo is concerned, there is no claim to human authority that they cannot trump.

They are the temple leaders.

I can tell you, to this day righteous religious people wrestle with authority

Our traditions, privilege, educations, histories, gender and ethnicities form us in different ways.

Within the church, we struggle with questions of servant-hood, power, empowerment, and calling.

We ask ourselves these difficult questions: Where does our authority come from?

How does authority manifest itself?

We are people who have the audacity to attempt to utter the Word of God, to comment on it and strive to share what aspects affect the people gathered

And so authority in a very real topic today

Jesus doesn’t appear to like the specific question of authority by the religious leaders – and so he responds by stating that if they answer His question, He will answer theirs – and He asks:

“Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” (Matthew 21:25a)

It is a difficult question for them because either answer has negative implications for them

In answering the chief priests’ challenge with a question of his own, Jesus is doing more than deflecting their attack.

He is teaching by exposing the assumptions that lie under the priests’ challenge.

He asks them whether the baptism of John was from heaven, or of human origin.

The priests and elders aren’t happy with either option – and that’s precisely Jesus’ point.

It can be said that by leaving his own question unanswered, Jesus suggests that doing God’s will requires a human being in relationship with the divine.

If our work is based on an arrogant claim of our own authority, it can’t long remain true to God’s will.

But neither does God require that we minimize our own humanity as we do God’s work in the world.

We are fallible creatures trying to teach and heal and love other fallible creatures, and perhaps our humility in teaching, healing, and loving is a more essential ingredient than our authority ever could be.[2]

To amplify and illustrate what Jesus is doing with the challenges to His authority He tells us a parable

It is a parable about two brothers; both are asked to a do a job – one says ‘yes’ but then doesn’t do anything and the other says ‘no’ but then reconsiders and does the job

            And then Jesus asks “Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:31a)

                        The answer is easy – the one who does the job

And the implication is that authority is given by the father to the ones that do the will of the father – not merely talking about it

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there were two sisters who were the neighbourhood baby-sitters.

One evening the new couple on the block hired the younger sister to baby sit for their children.

When they returned home, the house was a mess, the sitter was half asleep on the couch, and it looked like the children had not followed their routine of washing up and brushing their teeth.

The next morning, the children were so excited. They told their parents how the sitter had played with them and told them wonderful stories and run races with them and helped them say their prayers before they went to sleep.

Still, the parents decided they would not use a sitter who left such a mess again.

The next time they went out they hired the older sister. When they returned home this time, the house was neat and orderly, the children asleep, the baby-sitter at the table studying.

She reported that the children had been angels and there were no problems.

They were very pleased with her and gave her an extra tip.

The next morning the children complained that the sitter had yelled at them using swear words, made them play outside after dark while she talked to her boyfriend on the phone, made them go to bed early, and then went outside and smoked and talked with some friends.

Which of the two sitters would you want to use?[3]

                        Appearances of doing a wonderful job can be world apart from the reality of the situation

We all have had these experiences, where the promises far exceeds the performance, where people say “yes” too easily and then don’t follow through. 

Since we all have had similar reactions and feelings, it is easy for us to understand the parable of Jesus for today about the two sons. 

The meaning is so obvious.  That is, some religious people make all kinds of grandiose promises to God but their performance doesn’t live up to their promises. 

These Christians promise God, “O yes, God, I will be your faithful disciple.  I will carry out the mission of the church.  I will do your work in the world.  You, count on me. I’ll get the job done for you, Lord.” 

But they don’t do a darn thing. 

Jesus reveals the chief priests and elders for what they were… and contrasts them to the tax collectors and the prostitutes …AND then He says that they are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

He goes and finds some less churchy people who actually go and do what God wants done in this world. 

When I was in sales, I heard it taught the "Three B’s: Believe, Behave, Become."

The idea was that what we believe in our heart drives our behaviour, and our behaviour drives what we become,

This is important when much of your job produces rejection; healthy positive attitude is the fuel that drives you through the sometimes slow sales cycles…

We Christians, if we consider the message of much of the world outside of Church, are faced with countless negative messages

And to that Jesus invites us to base our belief on the Word of God;

To hear it, Believe it and then Act it.

There is a very pragmatic thing that one of my former sales managers used to often say:

            I like the job that we are doing better than the one you are talking about

Simply put, the parable could be summed up in the following cliché - The proof is in the pudding

Jesus said to the Pharisees:  There was a man who had two sons.  He said to the first son,

“Will you go and work in the vineyard today?  The vineyard is a mess, and there is so much work to be done.  Picking up the rocks.  Planting.  Pruning. Picking grapes.  Producing wine. 

Will you do the work in the vineyard today?”

In other words, will you care for the sick and dying, the blind and the lame, the deaf and the non-verbal?  Will you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison?” 

And the older son said, “Of course, you can count on me.” 

And the older son went off to the vineyard...where he conducted a worship service, and then held a Bible study in the Old Testament, 

And then enjoyed some wine and cheese and fellowship with his friends who also had come to the vineyard

The vineyard was still a mess and there was much work to be done; and so the father approached people from the lower rungs of society to see if they would do the work. 

He approached the tax collectors and tanners; the pimps and the prostitutes; the bookies, the bartenders and asked them the questions: 

“Will you do the work in my vineyard.  It’s a mess.   The world is a mess.  Would you care for the sick and dying, the blind and lame, the death and non-verbal? 

Would you feed the hungry?  Clothe the naked?  Visit those in jail?”

And the tax collectors and prostitutes said:  “Are you crazy?  Who do you think we are? 

Some goodie-two-shoes?  Get real.”  They started to walk away from the mess, but took a second look, had a change of heart, and went and did the work that needed to be done.

Living like a Christian is work in this messed up world.  There are so many hurting people to care for,

So many sick and dying, blind and lame, deaf and non-verbal, so many without food, clothing and in prison.  And it is work to live as a Christian in this kind of world. 

There are always earthquakes in the Haiti and Chiles of the world.  There are always wars in the Afghanistans and the Israels of the world.  There are always divorces and families falling apart. 

There are always poor families living down the street, with not enough money and emotional resources to make it. [4]

In other words, this parable is an invitation for us not to be like the Pharisees.

It is a challenge to go into God’s messed up world and do the necessary work


36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37[Jesus] said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Authority comes from doing the will of the Lord






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