Today’s meditation comes from Matthew 21:23-32.
Let’s look at what’s happening here. This confrontation occurs immediately after some very key events in the passion story of Jesus. Before this Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with the crowds crying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Afterwards, Jesus entered the court of the Gentiles in the outer-circle, far away from the court of the Jews. The Gentile court was the only place that Gentile God-fearers were able to worship, separated from the inner courts of the church because of their nationality. Basically, the Gentile believers were considered second-class citizens and only begrudgingly allowed in temple. But in this court, the only place where the Gentiles could worship, the Jewish temple authorities had set up a marketplace with loud shouting vendors, cries of animal sounds from every corner and merchants loudly haggling and counting piles of gold. Can you imagine the scene in the middle of our own sanctuary loud haggling and fighting, cattle and doves traded and walked around during the middle of the worship service! Those Jewish authorities were preventing people from getting to God, they were a hindrance and an obstacle to worship. What else would Jesus do? What else would God do? Jesus drove out the merchants with a loud cry “my Father’s house is a house of prayer!”
Upon seeing the hypocrisy and greed of the temple Jesus leaves the city, going out to the infamous fig tree that was not bearing fruit in season. A vivid picture of God looking for fruit from His people upon the day of visitation but only finding rot and corruption, like the fig tree, both became accursed, with God saying to them “your will be done,” letting those that rejected the Christ go their own way apart from God. Those 4 words, “your will be done” are never words we want to hear from God in regards to our own behavior.
Now, after all of these tumultuous and prophecy fulfilling events, Enraged, the Jewish temple leaders go out to confront Jesus, “by what authority are you doing all these things!!!???” because the only one who would have that authority would be God’s chosen one, the Messiah.
Jesus’ cryptic answer to this question is just another way of saying, “are you really sure you want to know? Because once you know, once it’s out there in the open, you will be faced with a choice. John the Baptist came and offered you the same choice, but you refused him just like you refused all of the prophets God sent in the past. But now the Messiah himself has come, powerful in word and deed, healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom.” It was obvious who Jesus was, but once knowing, the line is drawn in the sand and they could either fall down and worship Him as Lord and Savior or crucify him so they could try and keep their earthly authority that didn’t belong to them anyways. Being forced to face the Messiah is not always a pleasant experience, Jesus called to them: repent or reject. But instead they muttered “I don’t know” unwilling to face the call of Christ.
Then Jesus tells this parable about two sons, one son rudely tells his Father “no” when His father asks him to work in the field but then thinks better of it and obeys, the other son quickly tells His father “yes,” with no intention of obeying and goes off along his own way. Which one of these two sons obeyed his father? Of course, the one who initially said no but then thought better of it and obeyed. We have a special word for that action. Repent. They repented, turning away from their disobedience and obeying.
Jesus told the religious authorities, look at the prostitutes, tax collectors, “sinners,” all who in their lifestyle and actions said no to God, but now when Jesus came they believed and repented, turning away from their sinful lifestyle and obeying God. These people you look down upon are now blessed by God and have eternal life, but you, all your doing is giving God lip-service, trying to look good on the outside but rejecting God on the inside.
We have another name for this kind of life, hypocrisy, saying one thing but doing something else, smiling and nodding at God all the while doing whatever it is that we please, saying one thing but meaning something else.
“I’m a Christian but I don’t go to worship or I’m not part of a church family.”
“Sure, I believe in God, but it really doesn’t change how I live. I can believe but still do what I want!”
“Worship God on Sunday and cuss out my kids on Monday.”
There are countless other ways of smiling and nodding at God but going our own way. Salvation is not based upon our works but our works do influence our faith and its not that far of a leap from smiling and nodding at God but going our own way to not even bothering with the appearance of smiling and nodding at God but simply going our own way. Hearing those 4 four words we never want to hear from God, “your will be done,” instead of His will be done, smiling and nodding our way all the way to hell.
As hard as these kind of passages are, they are necessary in our Christian walk, allowing Jesus to confront us in the places were we know deep down inside we are being hypocrites both to God and the people around us. But what are we suppose to do with this? We can act like the religious temple authorities of old, muttering “I don’t know” put it off and pretend to not hear Jesus calling. But how well will that serve us. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, not one of us is guaranteed the next moment. But while it is still now, follow in the footsteps of the tax collectors and prostitutes who heard the call of Christ and repented both in word and deed.
Because the Christian life and don’t get this wrong, is not one of perfection but is marked by forgiveness and is shaped by the cross. Do we smile and nod at God but go our own way? Yes, we know the truth, but instead of simply letting ourselves be beat down or discouraged, remember the Christian life is not about perfection but about forgiveness and habitual growth. Not perfection but a growing pattern of Christian maturity. A life that wakes up every morning with the sign of the cross and goes to bed every night looking to the same cross for forgiveness and strength to live the day to come in a Christ like manner then wakes up again with the sign of the cross upon us. It is this cruciform pattern of life, forgiveness then growth then failing then forgiveness then growth once again, this is what shapes the Christian life, not perfection that is impossible this side of heaven.
This all comes from Jesus who is the only one who ever walked this earth without ever being a hypocrite. With Jesus, you get what you see, His words and actions are the same and he showed this upon the cross, which was the ultimate act of integrity. I love you; he says, see how much I love you, as he stretched his arms out and died.
As we grow in our own Christian maturity, relying upon the grace of God, this is our prayer that we might be who we say we are, both in word and deed, becoming people of faithful integrity, growing into obedient children. Amen.