Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Matthew 21:23-32
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Timothy Hoyer

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”24Jesus 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.25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28″What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.32For John 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.

Author’s Note: The plot so far is that Jesus has been present with the poor, the outcast, the sick, the tax collector, and the sinner. He has been present with healing, with forgiveness, and with love and mercy. His presence is the kingdom of heaven come near, as John the Baptist prophesied. Jesus’ presence is the promise Matthew starts his gospel with, “You shall name him “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). The day before this text Jesus had entered Jerusalem as a king of peace. Then, that same day, Jesus drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple because “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Immediately after the temple was cleared the blind and the lame came into the temple to Jesus “and he cured them.” It is the next day and Jesus had returned to the temple and was teaching when the elders demanded that Jesus tell them by what authority he was doing “these things.”

DIAGNOSIS: We Have the Wrong Person in Charge

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : Someone Has To Be in Charge
When we think we are in charge and someone does something we don’t like or think they are allowed to do, we ask, “Hey, who said you could do that?” The chief priests and the elders of the people believed they were in charge, or better, they believed God was in charge and that they were following God’s orders. The very ordering of creation makes all people believe that someone has to be in charge, someone decides what is good and evil (Genesis 3). God is hidden from us and has put the law in charge (at least until “faith came,” Galatians 3:23-28). We can only think in terms of law and about who is in charge of deciding what is good and evil. The chief priests and the elders thought they were in charge. So they asked Jesus, “Hey, who said you could do that?”

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : We Know Who Is in Charge and It’s Not Jesus
Not all people have commitment problems. The chief priests and elders were committed to God who gave the law. The law judges, separates, differentiates, puts people in a hierarchy of worth and not having worth. All people participate in judging, usually painfully liking it. So, by what authority does Jesus get rid of that hierarchy and judgment and differentiation? Who is he to heal? Who is he to forgive? (Remember, only God can forgive.) Who is he to be more popular and liked than they are? More to the point, who is Jesus to be more popular and liked than the God they are committed to? People, the blind and the lame, who are usually not even allowed into the temple because the law forbade them to be there, should not (at least, in a law way of thinking) commit themselves to Jesus. But Jesus challenged the commitment of the elders and chief priests, and our commitment to law. He asked them by what authority did John baptize and who gave John that authority? “For John came in the way of righteousness” (v. 32). The tax collectors and prostitutes committed themselves to John’s promise that the kingdom of heaven had come near (3:2). John had done what Jesus was doing. If the elders and chief priests denied John’s authority-the authority the people, the tax collectors, and prostitutes had committed to-then they were afraid the crowd would turn against them. They could not say John’s authority was from “heaven” (God) because then Jesus would ask them why they did not commit themselves to him (that is, give up all they had and follow him).

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : We Get the Final Results According to Whom We Have Committed
To commit ourselves to Jesus as having God’s authority, and that God gave Jesus that authority, is beyond our ability. We cannot trust Jesus with our lives, with our worth, with the meaning of our lives. We cannot possess Jesus in a way that if we lost everything else in our lives-spouse, children, health, home-we would have lost nothing. That is, we would still have worth, still have meaning, and still have life. But since we cannot commit to Jesus, then the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of heaven ahead of us. In other words, if they qualify to enter heaven, we surely don’t.

PROGNOSIS: Someone New Is in Charge

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : The Result of Jesus Being in Charge
The elders and chief priests plotted and used their authority against Jesus. If Jesus had God’s authority, he could come down from the cross they put him on by their (and God’s) authority (27:43). They taunted him to do God’s will. He would not. But then he did! Later, three days later, Jesus walked away from the cross, and from death! He overcame death-God’s final authority! So who did the will of God? The first did, the first who rose from death! The one who has God’s authority to get rid of hierarchy and judgment and differentiation of worth.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) : The Spirit Commits Us to Jesus
Jesus, with God’s authority, now welcomed those that had changed their minds, who had said No to God’s will but now had changed their minds and trusted Jesus as God’s will for them. The way of righteousness is Jesus’ death and rising. The way of our righteousness is to die and rise with Jesus, to have God’s authority poured onto us with Jesus’ promise of his life for ours. To lose our life is nothing when we are given Jesus’ life. So our minds are changed and we are given commitment to Jesus.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : We Tell Others Jesus Died and He’s in Charge
We have been given commitment to Jesus. So when we go about amongst people committed to their gods, their many different gods, but all gods of hierarchy, judgment, law, and differentiation of the worth of people, we get to be the blind who give worth to anyone, especially to those whom others say have no worth. We become the lame who cannot run roughshod over people who are poor, people who are called lazy and worthless, people who are called “those people.” We limp along with them, together going to the temple of Jesus-the cross-where we are healed, given heavenly worth, and where we are put into the way of righteousness. “Who says we can do those things?’ We are glad you asked. Let us tell you about Jesus.


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