Today’s message from Matthew showcases an encounter between Jesus and religious bureaucratics (Jewish priests and elders). The critics asked where Jesus obtained his authority. Jesus responded by posing a counter- question about the authority of John the Baptist. It’s funny, that responding to a question with a question is frowned upon by some people. I was taught not to question with a question because it was impudent and impolite. However, the needs of a situation sometime require that we violate the norms.
Jesus’ question 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 mob who revered John.
Next, Jesus posed a parable about a 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 were wicked no-shows, hypocrites who claimed to serve God with their lips but who served wickedness by their actions.
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 weren’t easily trapped in verbal arguments. Jesus could brandish words like weapons, slaughtering nonsense arguments and exposing inconsistencies.
Does due diligence require that we question religious authority? Who and what we question can reveal our ideological preferences and our view of authority. Whether we focus on issues of authority may not be the crucial debate today. There’s the ideal that reason and evidence counter a blind obedience to religious authority. Yet, as much as we might wish for logic and good sense history indicates otherwise. Large numbers of people consistently make bad choices, reacting with fear, ignorance and anger and thus cheating themselves and humanity of a better way.
Let’s get back to that parable about the sons who were supposed to work for their father. We, like they, 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 saying yes if we back-out later. The best possible scenario involves saying yes to God and to mean it, such that we follow our words with proper actions. Are you on a yes journey to God’s marvelous kingdom?