A Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

By: The Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler

Living the Divine Yes

(Matthew 21:23-32)

Our Gospel Reading, which finds Jesus both telling a story about two sons, and encouraging us to follow his example, reminds me of the father who was preparing pancakes for breakfast for his two sons—Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. They began to argue over who would get the first pancake. And the father saw this as an opportunity for a moral and spiritual lesson, saying to them; “If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.’” The two young brothers listened and looked at each other, and then Kevin, the oldest of the two, said, “Ryan, why don’t you be Jesus.”

In our Gospel reading we find Jesus being asked a serious question by the Jewish chief priests and elders. According to Matthew, this incident happened during the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus had just cleansed the Temple, overturning the tables of those that were profiting from religion and people’s faith. He had also been healing the blind and the lame—even on the Sabbath, which was forbidden. And his teaching was challenging the entire foundation of the Jewish religion at the time. So, a delegation of chief priests and elders are sent to question him—and challenge him, “By what authority are you doing these things?” What gave him the right to do this? It was literally an interrogation!

The chief priests and religious elders, together with the scribes, made up the group called the Sanhedrin at that time, which was responsible for maintaining order in religious affairs. And during that time, when teaching, no scribe or rabbi would ever give an individually determined judgment. Rather, they would always begin, “There is a teaching that……” and then quote all the relevant authorities and/or cite a Scripture passage, for everything they said and did. And yet here is Jesus, acting and teaching as if he needed no authority—quoting no experts to justify his actions.

Jesus answers them by telling them a story, a parable, thereby providing them an indirect answer—attempting to focus them in on the real issue of the life of faith! Jesus tells a story about two sons—which of course has been a teaching vehicle from ancient times (i.e. stories of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Jacob in the Hebrew Bible). The parable Jesus tells is about a father who asked both his sons to go and work in his vineyard. The first son says “no” he won’t go and serve in the fields. But later on, changed his mind, and did go. The second son says, “Yes sir, I will go”, but does not end up going. Then Jesus finishes the story with the seemingly obvious question; “Which of the two did the will of the father?”

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