“Merciful God, you sent your prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (UMC Book of Worship)
Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
The Great Tradition
“It is surprising that the publicans and sinners believed in Christ even before the priests, who were too arrogant. To work in the vineyard is to do justice. Lessons drawn from the parable include the point that it is better to do the righteousness of God without promising to do so than it is to promise and then renege. The son who first refused to work but afterward repented did the will of the father. The son who said he would go but did not go is reproved. Even after the publicans and harlots had believed, the Jewish leaders had not believed.” (Hillary of Poitiers)
Prayer of Confession
“Eternal God, we your Church, who should be instruments of your victory, confess that we have often put barriers in your way. Where we should be a light to the world, we participate in the sin around us. Forgive us, we pray, and free us to be people prepared for your coming, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (H. Burnham Kirkland)
Jesus had earlier cleared the temple. He decried its use as a place of commerce (a “den of robbers”) instead of a house of prayer. He, to the say the least, was righteously indignant over the disregard of such a holy place. He then, there in the temple, began to heal the lame and blind who came to him in need. Afterward, he left for the day but came back the next and began teaching in the temple courts.
The accepted religious authorities, still presumably upset about the previous day’s activities, and now witnessing this unofficial teacher instructing others in the temple, began to interrogate Jesus about the authority by which he did these things. In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus replied that he would answer their question if they first answered his. He asked them about the authority of John’s baptism, whether or not it came from God, which presented them with a dilemma. Either way they answered would get them into trouble with the crowd. So, they copped out by saying they didn’t know. Thus, Jesus refused to answer their question.
Jesus followed up with a parable about the stubbornness and arrogance of the religious authorities. Tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus said, were entering the Kingdom of God ahead of the so-called righteous religious leaders because the former understood their need. By humbly coming to Jesus, they acknowledged his authority and ability to rescue and redeem them from their sinful situation. They repented of (turned away from) their former ways of life and were now living renewed lives under the reign of the true King. That’s what it means to enter his kingdom. That is why Jesus came.
The religious leaders initially would not humble themselves and admit that their pursuit of righteousness was actually self-righteousness, self-promotion, and self-dependence. The coming of Jesus and his standard of true righteousness should have stopped them in their tracks and humbled them, as it ought to do to us. And yet, the good news is that when we have eyes to see and are utterly humbled by what we discover… when we acknowledge we’ve been traveling down the wrong path and, moreover, are unable to live up to the King’s standard in our own strength… it’s then we find ourselves welcomed into his Kingdom. It’s then we are made into new creatures, people who become able to pursue real and abundant life with the power and direction Jesus provides to those who transfer their trust from themselves to him.
- Have you turned from trusting in yourself and your ability to live a righteous life, to trusting in Jesus and living under his authority and power?
- If you have, share the story of your journey with a friend. What was it like making that change? Was it painful? Was it worth it? Explain the process and some of the lessons you learned along the way.
- If you haven’t made that change yet, share with a Christian friend what the obstacles are for you to make that change. Perhaps your friend can help you work through some of those difficulties. But don’t be discouraged if you are not there yet, for God is patient. If all you are able to do is, “want to want” that life, that in itself is pleasing to God. He will help you continue moving in down the right path.