Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost Year A 2020
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The chief priests and elders of the people were in a bad mood. Just one day earlier, Jesus had entered the City of Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” as the crowd proclaimed Him King. Even so, tensions were running high.
And to make matters worse, after Jesus had entered the city, Jesus went straight to the Temple where He chased the money changers out of the temple and drove out the buyers with a whip of cords. And to the amazement of all, the next day Jesus also cursed a fig tree before He again entered the temple and the fig tree died.
It should come as no surprise then, that when Jesus made His presence known in the temple He was immediately confronted by the chief priests and elders who challenged His authority. Not wanting to lose control of the money tree they had set up in the temple, the chief priest challenged Jesus in front of everyone hoping to discredit Jesus and shut Him up.
The chief priests and elders began their assault by asking Jesus “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” In other words, in front of everyone they asked Jesus “Who do you think you are?” as they tried to reassure the crowd that the temple was their domain.
Now, you may recall that a few weeks ago, Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do the people say that the Son of man is?” And they responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus asked them “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)
What Peter confessed that day, the chief priests, and elders could not ever confess. There was no way that they would admit that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. To do so would mean that their power and authority would be gone. To do so would mean that they would have to humble themselves before Him. To do so would mean that they would have to give up the profitable setup that they had established in the temple.
And so, the chief priests and elders had no choice in their mind but to challenge Jesus and question His authority. If they did not stop Him, Jesus would put an end to all that they had going for them in the temple.
But Jesus was on to their plot. And instead of answering their question, He responded with a question of His own. 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. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
In other words, Jesus asked them “Where did the baptism of John come from, from heaven or from man?” And this question immediately put the chief priests and elders in a bind, because if they said from heaven, they would look foolish because they had made it known that they did not believe that John the Baptist was from God.
But if they said from man, they would have had to face the wrath of the crowd, because they held John the Baptist up to be a prophet. Therefore, no matter how they answered, the outcome would not have been good.
And so, they said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
But Jesus did not stop there. Jesus immediately asked then “What do you think?” And then He told them a parable concerning a father who asks his two sons to go and work in his vineyard. One son says “no,” but later goes and does what his father asked him to do. The other son responded “Yes, I will go and work in the vineyard,” but then did not go and do what his father asked him to do.
Jesus then asked, “Which of these two did the will of the father?” And the chief priests and elders responded, “the first.” And everyone gathered that day knew that something was wrong. Because honor of parents and elders was expected in Biblical times. And if a son did not show honor, it was shameful.
As a result, both of them had sinned. The first by saying he would not go and work in the vineyard and the second by stating he would go and did not show up. Neither son showed respect for their father.
Now, the first son knew that he had shamed his father and he changed his mind and he went and worked in the vineyard. The first son repented of his actions and fulfilled his father’s wishes and did as he had been told.
Jesus then concluded the parable by answering His own question concerning the authority of John the Baptist. “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John the Baptist 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.”
And the point being, the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they had sinned and had shamed their relationship with God by their actions. They heard John’s call for repentance, and the forgiveness that was offered to them through his ministry of baptism.
And they listened to John the Baptist and turned their lives around and embraced a new relationship with God.
But the chief priests and elders of the temple? They did not realize that they too had been shameful to God and were in desperate need of God’s forgiveness. The chief priests and elders had failed to see the grace of God at work through John the Baptist, and now they questioned the authority of Jesus.
And so, to protect themselves and their authority in the temple, the chief priests and the elders would seek to destroy Jesus by having Him crucified. Which is exactly what they did. One week later, Jesus would be hung on a cross and murdered.
But the cross could not hold Him, and death would not have the final say. Crucified, dead, and buried by the authority of Almighty God, Jesus Christ burst forth from the tomb alive. And Ascending into heaven, He declared, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18
The chief priests and elders of the temple wanted nothing to do with Jesus. The chief priests and elders wanted to hang on to the old, sinful way that was familiar and profitable to them. The chief priests and elders refused to see that in Christ, there is a new creation: that everything old has passed away; and that everything corrupted has become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17
And the Good News this morning is this… if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Let us pray: Father of mercies and God of all consolation, come to the aid of your people, turning us from our sin to live for you alone. Give us the power of your Holy Spirit that we may attend to your Word, confess our sins, receive your forgiveness, and grow into the fullness of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.