The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 21:23-32

THE EVENTS RECORDED IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY OCCURRED ON THE DAY AFTER JESUS ENTERED JERUSALEM RIDING ON A DONKEY, ACCOMPANIED BY A VERY LARGE CROWD SHOUTING “HOSANNA!” WHEN HE GOT TO THE TEMPLE MOUNT, HE MADE A WHIP OUT OF ROPES, TURNED OVER THE TABLES OF THE MONEY CHANGERS AND SELLERS OF SACRIFICIAL ANIMALS, AND WHIPPED THEM OUT OF THE TEMPLE AREA. THE TEMPLE AUTHORITIES COULDN’T TOUCH HIM THEN BECAUSE OF THE GREAT CROWD, BUT, TODAY, WHEN HE CAME BACK TO TEACH, THEY POUNCED ON HIM, AND DEMANDED BY WHAT AUTHORITY HE WAS DOING THESE THINGS. BASICALLY, THEY WERE DEMANDING TO KNOW WHO GAVE HIM THE RIGHT TO MESS IN THEIR BUSINESS; AND A GREAT BUSINESS IT WAS INDEED.

SINCE GREEK AND ROMAN COINS ALL HAD PICTURES OF VARIOUS GODS, OR GOD EMPERORS, ON THEM, THEY COULD NOT BE USED FOR ANY RELIGIOUS PURPOSE IN THE TEMPLE; NOT EVEN FOR DONATIONS. TO MAKE A CONTRIBUTION, OR OFFER A SACRIFICE, YOU HAD TO CHANGE YOUR SECULAR MONEY INTO THE TEMPLE SHEKEL AT A RATE SET BY THE TEMPLE. IF YOU THINK THE EXCHANGE RATE WAS ONE FOR ONE, THERE IS A BRIDGE IN BROOKLYN I’D LIKE TO SELL TO YOU. THE TEMPLE TOOK A SIGNIFICANT CUT OF EVERYTHING THAT CAME IN, AND SINCE EVERYONE HAD TO COME TO THE TEMPLE AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR, THE TEMPLE GOT A PIECE FROM EVERYONE’S POCKET. THIS PAID FOR THE UPKEEP OF THE TEMPLE, AND THE INCOME OF THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES; WHO LIVED VERY WELL INDEED. JESUS’ ACTIONS THREATENED THE EXISTENCE OF THE TEMPLE SYSTEM AND THE LIVELIHOOD OF THE RULING CLASS.

THE QUESTION, “BY WHAT AUTHORITY ARE YOU DOING THESE THINGS, AND WHO GAVE YOU THIS AUTHORITY,” IS MEANT TO TRAP JESUS; THE TEMPLE AUTHORITIES CERTAINLY DID NOT BELIEVE JESUS HAD ANY RIGHT TO DO WHAT HE DID. NOT JUST HIS CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE, BUT HIS TEACHING AND PREACHING, OR EVEN HIS SUPPOSED HEALING OF THE PEOPLE. HE WAS NOT A TRAINED RABBI, HE WAS A HICK FROM THE HILLS OF GALILEE, AND CERTAINLY NOT ONE OF THEM; THE RIGHTEOUS OF ISRAEL. IF JESUS SAID HIS AUTHORITY COMES FROM GOD, THEY WOULD DECLARE HIM A BLASPHEMER; IF HE SAID HE ACTED ON HIS OWN AUTHORITY, HE WOULD BE DECLARED A FAKER AND A FALSE TEACHER.

JESUS TURNS THE QUESTION BACK ON HIS ACCUSERS BY ASKING THEM WHERE JOHN GOT HIS AUTHORITY TO BAPTIZE. THIS PUT THE LEADERS BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE; IF THEY SAID FROM GOD, THEN THEY WERE WRONG NOT TO BELIEVE HIM; IF THEY SAID FROM MAN, THE PEOPLE WOULD RIOT BECAUSE THEY ACCEPTED JOHN AS A PROPHET. THEY COULD ONLY ANSWER, “WE DON’T KNOW.” SO, THEN, JESUS TOLD THEM, I WON’T TELL YOU WHERE MY AUTHORITY COMES FROM.

THEN JESUS TOLD THEM THIS LITTLE PARABLE ABOUT THE FATHER WHO ASKS HIS TWO SONS TO GO WORK IN THE VINEYARD. THE FIRST SAYS HE WILL NOT, THEN CHANGES HIS MIND AND DOES. THE SECOND SAYS HE WILL, BUT THEN DOES NOT. WHICH ONE, JESUS ASKED, DID THE WILL OF HIS FATHER? WHEN THE TEMPLE LEADERS MUST REPLY, “THE FIRST,” JESUS’ TRAP SNAPS SHUT. THE ISSUE HERE IS STILL ABOUT AUTHORITY; THE SON WHO RECOGNIZED AND OBEYED THE AUTHORITY OF THE FATHER, EVEN THOUGH AT FIRST HE REFUSED, IS MORE RIGHTEOUS THAN THE ONE WHO PAID LIP SERVICE TO THE FATHER AND THEN IGNORED THE FATHER’S WILL.

IT HAS LONG BEEN UNDERSTOOD THAT THERE ARE THREE DIFFERENT KINDS OF AUTHORITY; RATIONAL/LEGAL, TRADITIONAL, AND CHARISMATIC. RATIONAL AUTHORITY IS WHY WE SHOULD LISTEN TO A DOCTOR ON THE SUBJECT OF CHILDHOOD VACCINATIONS RATHER THAN A MOVIE ACTRESS. LEGAL AUTHORITY IS BASED ON THE LAWS OF A PARTICULAR SOCIETY. TRADITIONAL AUTHORITY COMES FROM THE CUSTOMS AND VALUES OF A SOCIETY, AND IS ENFORCED BY LONG ESTABLISHED COMMON PRACTICES. CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY IS THAT WHICH IS INVESTED IN A PERSON BECAUSE OF SPECIAL ABILITIES OR ATTRIBUTES THAT COMPEL OBEDIENCE AND DEVOTION. THE FATHER IN THE PARABLE IS ENDOWED WITH ALL THREE KINDS OF AUTHORITY. THE TEMPLE LEADERS, BELIEVING THEY HAVE LAW AND TRADITION ON THEIR SIDE, HAVE NO IDEA OF WHERE THE CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY OF JESUS ORIGINATES.

BECAUSE THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THE HEAVENLY AUTHORITY OF JOHN, THE TEMPLE LEADERS DISMISSED HIM, EVEN AFTER SEEING HOW THE TAX COLLECTORS AND PROSTITUTES BELIEVED AND REPENTED. THOSE WHO HEAR THE WILL OF THE FATHER AND TURN FROM THEIR SINFUL WAYS BACK TO HIM WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BEFORE THOSE WHO MERELY PAY LIP SERVICE TO THE WILL OF GOD.

JOHN’S AUTHORITY CAME FROM GOD, BUT NOW THE FULL AUTHORITY OF GOD IS PRESENT IN 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.” THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS IS THE AUTHORITY OF THE MOST HIGH GOD; AND THE WAY TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS IN THE RECOGNITION AND OBEDIENCE TO THE WILL OF THE FATHER IN CHRIST JESUS. THE WILL OF THE FATHER IS FOR US TO TURN FROM OUR SELF-CENTERED WAYS AND TO HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST; TO EMPTY OURSELVES FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS. JESUS POURED OUT HIMSELF FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD; AND THOSE WHO REPENT AND TURN TO GOD IN JESUS ARE TO POUR OUT THEIR SELVES FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS.

THERE WAS NOTHING INTRINSICALLY WRONG WITH THE TEMPLE WORSHIP, BUT IT BECAME WRONG WHEN THE PURPOSE OF THE TEMPLE BECAME THE TEMPLE. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG ABOUT THE CELEBRATIONS OF THE CHURCH OF TODAY, SO LONG AS THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST REMAINS CENTERED ON REACHING OUT TO THE BROKEN, THE HURTING, THE POOR, AND THE OUTCAST. WE COME HERE TO WORSHIP GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND, IN SO DOING, WE MUST HEAR THE ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY OF THE LIVING WORD OF GOD TELLING US, OVER AND OVER, THE WILL OF OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN. HIS WILL IS FOR US TO PREACH THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS, TO HEAL THE SICK, TO CLOTHE THE NAKED, TO FEED THE HUNGRY, TO BIND UP THE BROKEN HEARTED, TO BEFRIEND THE FRIENDLESS, AND TO POUR OUT OURSELVES AS AN OFFERING TO GOD FOR THE WORLD.

THUS, THE LORD JESUS, TO WHOM WE HAVE TURNED FOR OUR HOPE AND SALVATION, SENDS US, WITH THE ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY OF GOD ALMIGHTY, INTO THE VINEYARD OF THE WORLD TO DO HIS WILL. WHO, THEN, WILL GO?
AMEN

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