Today's sermon is a narrative sermon based on Matthew 21:23-32
If you ask me, the really big trouble started when Jesus entered into Jerusalem in the manner of the Messiah and then proceeded to knock over the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. Both of these activities were a direct slap in the face to the Chief Priests, the servants of that traitor Herod.
Of course, no one is going to ask me, seeing as I’m a woman…
I’m sorry, we haven’t been introduced. My name is Esther; I was – still am – a disciple of Jesus. Oh, not one of The Twelve, you understand, but I spent a great deal of time following Jesus around and listening to his teachings during his lifetime.
I was a young widow, you see. My husband had been killed in an accident just weeks after we were married. No-one wanted me after that. I was bad luck, they said. Cursed. My choice was to rely on charity or, well…I don’t even want to think about the other alternative.
When I was at my lowest, I met Jesus and the crowd of disciples following him. They willingly made me part of their community, took care of me and even encouraged me to contribute to their work.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus and the crowd of his disciples saved me, and I don’t just mean in a literal, physical way, although they did that too. I didn’t become a disciple of Jesus just for the charity, you see. Jesus touched my heart. He was talking of renewal: of the renewal of the people of God and of individuals. A New Creation.
And, as his followers during his lifetime, we were living that renewal, proclaiming the good news of God’s love and regard for people like me: the poor, the captives and the outcast. We were actually changing peoples’ lives as we told them the good news that they matter to God and that God has a plan for them.
Anyway, enough about me. I was talking about that day in the Temple.
Jesus had knocked over the tables of the money-changers, which enraged the Chief Priests and Elders. You see, the High Priest is the ultimate authority in the Temple and no one has the right to challenge the way things are done in the Temple except the Messiah. Jesus even quoted Isaiah, implying that the Temple was his house.
So, it wasn’t surprising that the Chief Priests wanted to know how it was that Jesus thought he had the right to do these things.
Did Jesus think that he was doing these things by God’s authority? That’s the question I think that they really wanted to ask him. Of course, they didn’t think that Jesus had God’s authority; they seemed to think that Jesus was fooling himself, or maybe even that his authority came from Satan.
So Jesus said to them: I was baptised by John. Where do you think that John got his authority?
Well, obviously, the Chief Priests didn’t think that John’s baptism was from God, but they could hardly say that in front of all of us and in front of the crowd in the Temple! On the other hand, if they acknowledged that John’s baptism of Jesus had been blessed by God’s Spirit, then they would have been acknowledging Jesus’ authority as Messiah. So they were caught between a rock and a hard place.
You could tell that Jesus’ answer made them angry. This upstart rabbi from Galilee, standing against the rightfully appointed Priests of the Lord, claiming in deed if not in word to be the Messiah. This country bumpkin had got the upper hand by answering them – the sophisticated Jerusalem experts – in a superb, probing, rabbinic form.
There was tension in the air. You could cut it with a knife. We all wondered at the time whether Jesus wanted to get himself killed.
But Jesus didn’t stop there! In for a penny, in for a pound, he began to tell a parable about two brothers. For everyone who knew Jesus – whether his supporters or his enemies – it was obvious who the two brothers represented. It’s people like me – and worse, tax collectors and prostitutes, Samaritans and thieves – who are like the first brother. The one who actually went out and worked for the father even though he said that he would not.
Why was it obvious, you ask? Well, because Jesus had spent so much of his time associating with those of us who the religious authorities didn’t consider worthy enough to worship God.
It’s not that Jesus didn’t have time for the so-called holy people. He talked with them, debated with them and he accepted their hospitality. If the authorities had repented, Jesus would have willingly taken them into his Kingdom too. It wasn’t a simple role-reversal that Jesus was after. He wasn’t trying to exclude the priests and elders from the Kingdom of God the way that they excluded us.
It’s just that Jesus also did have time for the rest of us – the discarded people of society. Jesus showed us that we matter too. He’s demonstrated to us that God has faith in us and that God values us. Jesus told us that we too are beloved children of God and that God wants us to be part of his Kingdom too!
Jesus showed us that repentance really is possible for everyone. That a person can never fall so low that God won’t forgive him.
Of course, the second son represented the Chief Priests and Elders. The one who gives every appearance of being his father’s faithful servant but who then doesn’t act on his promise. That was another big slap in the face to the religious authorities. You can see why they began to think about getting Jesus out of the way.
Of course, all that was many years ago. And as the years have gone by, Jesus’ parable about the two brothers comes back to me every now and then.
At the time that Jesus told it, I saw myself clearly as the first brother. I was, after all, a widow, a discarded woman, someone branded cursed and unlucky but Jesus’ disciples took me in and made me part of their family.
As I’ve grown in the Lord, though, I’ve sometimes found myself acting or thinking like the second brother – the one who acted righteous but didn’t actually do his father’s will. I suspect that all people of faith have found themselves in the same position at one time or another.
I’ve also come to see that sometimes the church itself acts like this.
It’s not a comfortable thing to see, of course. But I think that this is the way that the Lord helps both the church and his individual disciples to grow.
God wants us to proclaim his good news both as individual believers and as a church. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, all of humankind is offered the kind of second chance that I was offered. When the church lives and functions at its best, it can offer to the world a tiny glimpse of God’s New Creation.
God’s good news is that, in the New Creation, all people are to be invited to his wedding feast; not just invited guests but also those in the highways and the byways. The rich and the powerful, the poor and the vulnerable, all are invited to the table of the Lord.
Sisters and brothers, I see that you will soon come before the table of the Lord. Before you do, I invite you to give thanks to the Lord that you have been included in his celebration feast. I also invite you to think about how you as a church can proclaim the good news to the world in which you live…the good news of the Lordship of Christ and of God’s extravagant generosity toward all of humankind.