Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32
After driving the moneychangers out of the temple (21:12), Jesus begins teaching there. His authority is questioned by the religious leaders, who are supposed to be in charge of the temple.
23When [Jesus] 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.”
If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, oh I haven’t been to church in a long time. The building would probably fall down if I went back. Is that how do you think this works??? That if you finally after some time, turn around and make your way back, God would cause some calamity?? Punishing you for all your wrong choices the moment you made a choice to turn towards another path.
Changing our mind, taking a different path and God’s response to us and for us, are at the heart of these texts. The prophet Ezekiel argues with a popular proverb about sin and the consequences of our actions. “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
Generational Trauma is real. Our children will experience consequences as a result of our behavior and choices. You may be experiencing consequences or even trauma as a result of actions of previous generations. Stuff like addiction, abuse, and neglect – goes through generations, until someone chooses a different path. To be a different kind of family, a different kind of parent. Sin does affect the children, but it’s the consequences, not the guilt. This whole time, the people had been interpreting that parable as though the whole family is guilty because they all experience the consequences of sin.
No more God says. All lives belong to God, and all shall be judged on their own behavior, not the consequences of someone else’s choices. And – people can change. People can literally save their own lives, by turning from what would lead them to death and head toward life.
Now I’m not saying, “oh get to church next week and it will save your life!” I mean, I dunno, it might. It’s not a bad idea. But what are those things that you know you should be doing to truly live. What are those things that God has put within you – that God is calling you to and pushing you towards. Is there guilt you must confess? Or just the consequences of someone else’s choice somewhere along the line. Change is possible. Remember last week’s scriptures, even God changed God’s mind.
The word for “change of mind” here is literally “to change one’s cares,” or “to feel remorse,” or “to regret.” When Jesus brings up John the Baptist in this context, the sentiment is clearly reminiscent of John’s famous sermon, which became Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” The word for “repent” in these sermons is also translated as “change of mind.” But the word that Jesus uses means a “change of mind,” with the accent is on sorrow, remorse, and regret.
Both sons fall short of the father’s wishes. The first, though he eventually goes to the vineyard, only gets around to it after experiencing a remorseful change of mind — and so he has no grounds for looking down on his brother. In terms of initial action, the two are fundamentally the same: neither went to the vineyard in the first place. Nobody did the will of the father. The difference is that one of them had a remorseful transformation. Those “tax collectors and prostitutes” who have been so transformed, Jesus declares to the chief priests and elders, “are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you”
No wonder he would be crucified a week later. Those are fighting words. Tax collectors and prostitutes had made their bed and now had to lie in it, they would always carry the consequences of their actions. But Jesus challenges that way of thinking in the same way Ezekiel did – consequences are not the same as guilt. Forgiveness is possible, guilt and shame can be taken away and people can change because of their regret and change of heart.
The problem is for the pharisees they don’t see that they might need a change of heart and a change of mind. They question Jesus’ authority, while forgetting their own. Like so many of us, they are unable to change their mind when presented with new information, preferring to stick to what they’ve always known to be true. On their own authority and using that authority not to care for the people but to judge the people.
The authority of religious leaders is dangerous. The only point in the worship service where I point out my authority by virtue of my ordination is the confession and forgiveness. Not communion, where only ordained pastors are allowed to preside. Not at the sermon, where only called, trained, and assigned preachers are supposed to use their gifts. But the confession, it is there where the liturgy instructs me to remind myself and you that I am a called and ordained pastor in the church of Christ and By HIS authority I thereby forgive you all your sins.
God’s authority is to be used to free people, not bind people. It is for giving life, not taking it away; lifting burdens not piling them on. Likewise, for all of us, a “change of mind” is always possible; the road back to the vineyard is always open.