28th September 2020
'Rather than answering directly...'
Jesus said to them,
"Truly I tell you,
the tax collectors
and the prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God
ahead of you.
.... Matthew 21:31b
This statement from Jesus,
addressed to a church crowd,
the chief priests and elders,
came out of a challenge to Jesus' authority.
Rather than answering directly,
he puts his point over
in this interesting parable
found in Matthew 21:23-32
It's a story about two bad boys.
Boys don't change much,
(neither do girls for that matter)
so the story is wonderfully modern.
We can identify with these boys,
because we probably did these things too-
and so did our children.
The father asks the boys
to work in the vineyard,
perhaps the modern equivalent
would be to "mow the lawn."
The one says he will,
but he never does it.
The other says he won't,
but he changes his mind and does it.
"did what the father asks?"
Now, you see, we are not comparing
one good and one bad boy here.
Neither did what the father asked -
at least not at first.
The one who changed his mind
and finally "cut the grass" however,
even the spiritual leaders
could work out that
he was less bad than the other!
But the religious leaders
to whom Jesus was speaking
were still locked into
their 'No' to God and so,
until they changed their focus,
there was no hope of them
entering the kingdom of God.
But the sinners
and those on the margins of society,
had changed their focus,
and turned their 'No' into a 'Yes'
and so they were perfectly acceptable to God.
But then Jesus added a hammer-blow
to make sure that the religious leaders
didn't miss the point:
'even tax collectors
will get into the kingdom of heaven
for those, who were convinced
their way was right, to hear.
Can you imagine how horrified
they must have been having
their beliefs about themselves
and standing in the eyes God
challenged in such a way?
Judging by the strength of Jesus' language,
it seems that, in his eyes,
self-righteousness is one of
the most serious sins.
But it's an easy one to fall into -
especially for people who like
the idea of being virtuous.
I must hold my hand up,
to being guilty of this sometimes,
and having to ask forgiveness from God.
This parable encourages us
to make a judgement
about the meaning
and to apply it to ourselves.
There are words of challenge
and direction in this statement of Jesus.
Are we, too, fearful of saying Yes to God?
Do we think the secrets
of our past are too much for him?
That's not the message in this passage
and that's not the message
of the Christian Gospel.
We are reminded that were it not
for God's boundless love and mercy
we ourselves would be poor,
wretched and blind.
We are reminded that only those
who have known themselves
to be impoverished without Christ
can understand deep gratitude.
And most, of all,
we are reminded that God's love for us
assures that we cannot promise
to help our neighbour and never go;
for we, who once were poor,
have been made rich.
We who have been forgiven much,
have much to share.
So let us say a wholehearted 'Yes',
to God today,
go out and do his will.