Message for 1 October 2017–“Question Authority”

Today’s message from Matthew 21:23-32 examines an encounter between Jesus and religious bureaucrats. The critics asked where Jesus obtained his authority. Jesus responded by posing a counter- question, inquiring about the authority of John the Baptist. It’s funny, that responding to a question with a question is often frowned upon. We’re often taught not to do this because questioning a questioner can be impudent and impolite. However, certain situations such as with a hostile audience often require calculated violation of rhetorical norms.
What Jesus asked his critics raised the controversial issue of John’s baptism, where it came from (heaven or earth). Both Jesus and the critics knew that there was no safe reply to this question. If the critics said “heaven,” then it would beg the question of why the critics did not follow John’s teaching. If the critics had said “earth” as the source of John’s baptism, then they risked lynching by the populist mob who adored John the Baptist. Jesus was clever in revealing how the authorities lacked the integrity and courage to stand against the mob.
To better illustrate what was going on, Jesus posed a parable about a hypothetical father asking each of his two sons to work in the vineyard. One said “no,” but later recanted; the other said “yes,” but was a no-show. Out of this Jesus concluded that the priests and elders—the Jewish critics who most hounded him—were wicked no-shows, hypocrites who claimed to serve God with their lips but who at heart were willingly misguided. Jesus’ encounter with the fact haters revealed how exposing peoples’ fallacies and faulty thinking is a necessary yet risky task.
Jesus didn’t pull any punches when confronting the idiots who tried to stymie him. Both Jesus’ ancient and contemporary despisers realize that God’s messengers can be trapped in arguments. Part of facing the world prepared is the aspect of having the proper attitude when facing critics’ questions. Jesus could brandish words like weapons, slaughtering nonsense arguments and exposing the naked inconsistencies of flawed reasoning. It isn’t easy to confront people, but the alternative is to be ruined by authoritarianism inside and outside the church.
It seems that as much as ever, followers of God must not only question authority but hold it vigorously accountable. Who and what a person is willing to challenge both in the church and government reveals a person’s ethical priorities. The consequences can be catastrophic. People who are willingly deceived by charismatic personalities form movements which then strip other citizens of human rights. Astonishingly, people of faith become complicit in the demagoguery which rots souls from within. Jesus’ encounter with those ancient religious authorities reveals that some of the most deceived, inconsistent and ruinous people hide behind a contrived God and false religion.
Speaking the truth to power is crucial. The threat to God’s principles is as great as ever, especially given how facts are increasingly under siege by people disconnected from reality. Despite fake news and a growing appetite for lies among many people, sincere followers of God are encouraged to discern the truth behind the façade. True God followers value the interaction between faith, reason and evidence to overcome blind obedience to religious or political authority. Yet, as much as we might wish for logic and good sense, history indicates that the herd often tramples God’s messengers. Large numbers of people consistently make bad choices, reacting with fear, ignorance and anger and thus cheating themselves and humanity of God’s love and truth.
Let’s get back to that parable Jesus shared about the sons who were supposed to work for their father. We, like those sons, are challenged to be consistent and proper in our response to God’s calling. This means that when God asks us to go and work, we should say “yes!” and do whatever it takes to keep our commitment. Even if we say no to God, it is not as bad as committing and then later withdrawing our pledge . The best possible scenario involves affirming God, such that we follow our words with proper feelings and actions. Finally, don’t let any authority figure, religious or political, manipulate you. We are each invited to serve God directly without anyone’s approval. So, enjoy your spiritual journey and don’t feel that you have to either be forced into or run over by a religious or political bandwagon.
–Reverend Hoxey