The audio was recorded at our Praise and Worship service on September 28, 2014.
When 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?" Jesus 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. Did 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?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." So 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.
What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which 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. For 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.
Where is your Vineyard?
This story ought to be told closer to Lent than closer to Christmas. The events that unfold between Jesus and the temple leaders in our story today occur after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After Jesus drives the money changers out of the temple. There is a definite tension in the room. The chief priests and the elders come to Jesus to challenge him in the aftermath of his entrance into Jerusalem and his public statement on temple activities. Make no mistake, Jesus’ trial has started.
The chief priests and the elders of the people come to Jesus with a question about his authority. It’s a funny question really. Jesus, just like the temple leaders, gets some of his authority from the crowds that follow him (crowds that will be quick to turn on him). They give legitimacy to his teaching and ministry. But Jesus’ ultimate authority comes from God in his baptism and transfiguration - he is fulfilling God’s call. The chief priests and elders get their ultimate authority from Rome - a power that systematically oppresses their own people. Yet the temple leaders question Jesus on behalf of God from whom they claim to have authority. The irony should not be missed.
They are trying to bait Jesus into a claim of blasphemy. Then they can close the case and get this movement off their hands. If Jesus makes a statement that his authority comes from God, he leaves himself open to an official charge from the religious authorities. Jesus, as always, senses the trap, and answers in the form of a question. “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. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Jesus wants them to claim where they have encountered God's presence in their midst. His case study is the ministry of John.
John the Baptizer’s movement was a popular one amongst the people. It drew people from all walks of life - including the prostitutes and tax collectors, and the temple authorities and Herod. The issue Jesus raises is how the temple leaders understand John’s authority. The underlying question is how they recognize God’s presence in their midst. This is not so much a trap from Jesus as it is a question of honesty. The chief priests and the elders have an opinion. They have thought about John’ ministry. Jesus wants them to make a public statement. And that’s where they fail.
Their answer of “we do not know” does not come from a place of ignorance. Matthew describes their internal debate. If they claim that John’s authority was from God Jesus will call them out for not supporting and joining John’s ministry. If they claim that John’s authority came from humans, they will upset the crowds of people who held John as an authority figure. They chose to claim a place of ignorance, a choice that gives Jesus his answer. They have not trusted that God is at work through John. They have not recognized God’s presence in their midst. They have set themselves against God’s work in the world and held tight to their supposed power with Rome.
In the midst of this debate over authority Jesus tells the parable of the two sons. It’s pretty straight forward when it comes to parables. The father asks the sons to go to work. The first one says no, but goes to work anyway. The second son says yes, but never makes his way to the vineyard. The question is which one did the will of the father. The temple leaders answer correctly - the one who eventually went to work - the one who said yes with his actions.
After Jesus tells his parable he brings up two groups who are often looked down upon because of their commitments to the empire. Tax collectors enforced the unjust tax system of depleting the people’s resources. Prostitutes are often linked to their illicit activities with Roman soldiers. But it’s these two groups that Jesus lifts up as champions of God’s kingdom. They have heard the message of John, and Jesus, and have responded to God’s work in their midst. They have demonstrated themselves to be people of faith. People who realize that true power and a full life does not lie within the status quo. They have trusted that God is at work in their lives and they have acted upon that trust.
They have trusted that God is at work in their lives and they have acted upon that trust.
The vineyard is a metaphor throughout the Bible for the chosen people of God. We encounter it’s use throughout the Old Testament. Matthew is not doing anything new. He understands Jesus to be in the movement of God’s story from the very beginning. Matthew uses the vineyard metaphor for God’s kingdom, present in Jesus Christ. This metaphor is alive and well for us today. God’s kingdom is alive and well in our midst. God is calling us into this vineyard of life-giving possibilities where we place our trust and energy into a movement that is changing the world.
God is calling us into this vineyard of life-giving possibilities where we place our trust and energy into a movement that is changing the world.
Where is our vineyard? Where do we encounter God’s kingdom at work in our lives?
Putting our money where our mouths are leads us to putting our hands and feet into the vineyards where we have invested our money. It’s not just about writing checks. God calls us into action. God calls us to engage not only with our pocketbooks, but with our lives as well. This is not an immediate, reactionary, type of engagement. The call to go into the vineyard puts us into a long-term commitment to use our gifts and energies to effect change in our midst. It’s a life-long response.
There are multiple moments in which we can encounter God’s vineyard in our midst. When I think of where God is calling people to witness to the power and love of God’s kingdom, I think of Ferguson, Missouri. The tension and the struggle that have played out over the last several weeks have been a call for God’s people to be a witness to the active presence of God in the world. To stand with those in need of healing and justice. Perhaps we in Fredericksburg, TX are not called to load a bus and drive to Missouri. But maybe God is calling us to recognize a pattern of vineyard life in our own community. We are called to roll up our sleeves and go to work in the vineyards of God’s kingdom in our own lives.
So I turn the question over to our lives this week - Where is your vineyard? Where do you see God calling you to work on behalf of the kingdom? Maybe you are called to pick up the phone and call John at the Good Samaritan’s Center. Not to donate money, but to ask what they need done at the center this week. Maybe you are called to go to the food pantry. Not to donate money. But to help restore the shelves or distribute food. Maybe you have been called to mentor or read to kids. The possibilities are endless. Your vineyard is our there.