EZEKIEL 18:25-28. PHILIPPIANS 2:1-11 MATTHEW 21:28-32
In the gospel today, we see Jesus in open conflict with the chief priests and the elders. He was teaching in the temple when they publically challenged him. “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority.” Jesus stood up to them with a counter challenge. “I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or human origin?”
They couldn’t say that John’s baptism was from God because they didn’t accept John’s message. If they said he wasn’t from God the people would have turned on them because John was considered a prophet by the people. They tried to save face by an+swering, “We do not know.” So, Jesus didn’t answer their question either Instead, he went on the attack by asking their opinion on a situation.
“A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They didn’t hesitate to answer, “the first.” Then he publically clobbered them. “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom before you! When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet, even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe in him.”
Even though Jesus was in conflict with the religious leaders, he didn’t hate them. He was making “good trouble.” Yes, he was challenging them; but with the challenge came an invitation to experience a deeper life. The religious leaders were stuck meticulously following the letter of the law without attempting to discover the spiritual dynamic behind the law – love of God and neighbor.
There’s a great deal of tension in the story Jesus spun. He’s telling the religious leaders that their relationship with God is sterile. They’re expending their lives following laws that they
think will make them righteous before God. Jesus is telling them that’s not enough. They have to get their hands dirty. They have to work in the vineyard of the Lord. Today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians defines that challenging work.
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, and participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”
Thinking that meticulously following religious laws will guarantee a place in the kingdom of God is incorrect thinking. In his struggle with the religious leaders Jesus was trying to teach them that they must accept the messy challenge to love.
Jesus is inviting them, and us, to love – to live in harmony with one another – to be compassionate – to be humble and to consider the needs of others before our own. This is the work of the vineyard. This is the doorway to the kingdom of God.