Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stuck between Popular Opinion and God's New Order

Sunday. September 25, 2011

Matthew 21: 23-33

This text contains a conflict and a parable.

The conflict is between the chief priest and elders and Jesus. A conflict text begins with a challenge to Jesus by a person or group of people. Jesus responds to that challenge with a question or statement that gets at the real meaning of what the person or people are saying. Then, Jesus concludes with a pronouncement. This particular conflict text does not include the pronouncement.

So what are the questioners getting at? In the Gospel of Mark, the question of authority is asked regarding Jesus clearing out the temple. In the Gospel of Luke, the question of authority is asked regarding Jesus spending time with outcasts and sinners. In the Gospel of Matthew, the question of authority is asked regarding Jesus and his teaching. We must remember that Jesus' disciples did not call him Rabbi, or Teacher. Only Judas, strangers, and those who were in conflict with Jesus called him a teacher. The question regarding Jesus and his teaching is an attempt to make Jesus no more than any other teacher.

Stephen Prothero, in American Jesus, traces the evolution of cultural thought about Jesus throughout the history of America. He contends that at this point in our history, we have made Jesus a wise sage. He is accepted, even in religions outside of Christianity, as a teacher.

Yet, Jesus is more than a teacher, he is the Son of God.

Parables are intended to offend. The parable in this text accomplishes that purpose. The question is asked, "Who did his father's will?" I have never been comfortable with claiming that either son had done his father's will. In fact, I think that is to be the answer to the question. Neither son did his father's will.

What we can get at here, are approaches to belief that are part of our way of being in the world. There is the person whose definition of God is limited to those qualities of God that are consistent with who they are. God handily becomes the one who fills in the gaps of fears and needs. Witness, in this case, becomes getting others to accept and believe in the same kind of God and rejection of those who do not believe in God the same way. Then, there is the person who does good deeds, but may not be a believer. A person may do good works that are integral to the society, but may do it for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. Gerhard Forde speaks of this in his book, Theology is for Proclamation.

In our search for teachings and teachers that help us make sense of our lives, we place our ultimate trust in those teachers. Sin is placing our ultimate trust in that which cannot transcend death. Only one has transcended death. That is Jeus Christ. As the one who died and who has risen from the dead, we claim him as more than teacher, but as Son of God.

The authority, that which writes the story of our lives, is God through Jesus Christ.

That authority gives us power. God writes us into the divine story. All that we have are gifts from God for use in the living out of that story. We do not start at a deficity, but with the abundance of the gospel.

That authority gives us responsibilities. We are called, with our gifts, to put those gifts to use for the furtherance of the kingdom of God. This is less about telling others what they should be doing, and more about living within the confines of who we are and what we are called to do.

That authority holds us accountable. Jesus expects perfect obedience from his disciples, yet his pet name for them is "you of little faith." There is room for failure and growth. In fact, finally, I contend that life changing action allows room for the possibility of failure.

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