Pentecost 17, Proper 20, Year A – Matthew 21:23-32 – Resting on Authority

Title:Pentecost 17, Proper 20, Year A – Matthew 21:23-32 – Resting on Authority

Today we celebrated Helmut and Susan’s 60th wedding anniversary.

The service was intended to be Morning Prayer along the river led by Elizabeth Heimbach who gave the sermon. However, COVID-19 flareup in Port Royal led the service to be done on Zoom. Catherine came back from vacation to setup the serivce. Catherine provided the basis for holding outside services which included the Diocese of Virginia map of infections in Va., local infection rate and trend over the last few days

The weather overcast and with a 10% to 15% chance of rain and wet ground so a Zoom service may have been the best choice.

A reflection from Lutheran minister David Lose on the Gospel Matthew 21:23-32:

“But first, and to set the scene, let’s keep in mind that the story before us revolves around the question of authority. From where, in particular, does Jesus draw his authority not just to question but totally up-end the status quo, at least as far as religious power and customs are concerned. Just to remind us of the context, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem, greeted and hailed by the crowds with the messianic title, “Son of David.” His first action after such acclamation is to drive out the money changers; those, that is, that are essential to doing the business of the Temple, thereby threatening the revenue the Temple generates for both the religious ruling class and occupying Roman forces. He then retreats to Bethany for the night. The next day, after a somewhat strange interlude with a fig tree, he returns to the scene of the crime (from the perspective of his adversaries, at least) and is met with this challenge to this authority, a challenge leveled by, no surprise, those most affected by the disruption of Temple revenue, the chief priests and elders of the people. His response reveals a political acumen we sometimes forget to attribute to Jesus, as he renders his opponents mute with a single, clever, and politically fraught question. He then tells a parable justifying, or at least illustrating, the overturning of expectations and reversal of fortunes he both announced and inaugurates.

“Okay, so two thoughts:

“1) Tussles over authority are not new. Any pastor hearing opinions that are as strong as they are contrary from a wide variety of members on, for instance, when to resume in-person worship amid the ongoing pandemic or the scope and nature of a congregation’s response to calls for greater racial equity know this well! In the Gospel story, who is “right” and who is “wrong” is clear because, well, Jesus is always right. J In our shared life in the Body of Christ, it’s often less clear or, even when it seems clear, there is no guarantee that we will find the words, much less a parable, to silence those who present themselves as adversarial. I’m not sure of the homiletical direction this invites, but I do take comfort that disagreements over authority and clashes of opinion are not new.

“2) Having said that – and here is the insight that was new to me – I find it so very interesting that while the stakes are high, and while some of these same leaders who are silenced by Jesus’ sagacity here will later conspire to have him crucified, yet this final pronouncement is not ultimate condemnation, let alone expulsion from the kingdom, but rather reversal. The tax collectors and prostitutes – representing the entirety of those typically considered beyond the pale – enter the kingdom of God ahead of the rulers, not instead of them. God takes no note of station. God pays attention not to roles but to the heart… and to our actions. But while this precludes the rulers entering first, as they may have expected – after all, they are the chief priests and leaders of the people – they are not banished. So even despite their shortcoming, there is still room for them. Still room, that is, for those who have been corrupted by power; room even for those who neglect their duties or perhaps even exploit their stations; room even for those who reject Christ’s words and deeds, just as they rejected John’s. Room, that is, for all.

“Amid the controversies of the day, when it feels like there are few decisions that are uncontested, when we not only find ourselves in an increasingly polarized culture but when some of our leaders thrive by exploiting and encouraging that polarization, yet Jesus seems here unwilling to give up on anybody. Which feels important for me to remember when I am tempted to consign others to the category of despicable or unredeemable, and which also feels important to recall when I wonder if I’m in that category, if for no other reason – and, trust me, there are other reasons – that I am willing in the first place to think in terms of such categories and place people there!

“Even amid the height of Jesus’ struggle with his adversaries; even in the last week of his life; even as he faces betrayal, accusation, desertion, and crucifixion; yet Jesus imagines more room in the kingdom of God than anyone would imagine or have right to expect. That, at this particular time, seems like awfully good news.