S (Scripture): Matthew 21:28 Jesus said to the chief priests and elders: “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.
30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.
31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”
They said, “The first one.”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.
O (Observation): Scandalous words from Jesus! Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you! And he’s saying this to the church leaders…folks who have dedicated their lives to perpetuating God’s Church on earth!
The story Jesus tells points to people who refused God’s Word, but follow Jesus, because they (the tax collectors and prostitutes) see that God (in Jesus) is actually a good thing and a good way to be in the world. Those who say “yes” to God’s Word, but perpetuate systems of oppression (like the chief priests and elders), are not doing the will of the Father.
Jesus lures them in with this tale. The church leaders hear this story and believe that they are the ones going about the vineyard work. Jesus begs to differ. Jesus sees their work as dismissing God’s love for the world, in favor of a love only for the Jewish people and rites and rituals. Jesus reminds them that God’s work and love was always for all people.
A (Application): Where do you see God in the world? How do you sense God’s presence?
If someone senses God differently from you, is that bothersome to you? Does that encourage you? If you’re bothered by someone else’s way of connecting with God, are you jealous? Are you upset, because they don’t see it your way?
This is essentially the problem of the church leaders in Jesus’ time. They know God a certain way: rituals, purification rites, etc. Jesus – being God’s presence on earth, Emmanuel (“God with us”) – has little use for the rites and rituals.
So, he changed things. And we all know that in church “change” is like a certain 4-letter word : )
What was important to Jesus was the work of God’s will, not the rites and rituals that excluded folks.
So, Church, where do we need to work on welcoming, and not just pushing others away? And in cases where we have pushed others away, where do we need to ask forgiveness and work towards reconciliation?
How can the Church be a healing presence, and not just a harmful one?
P (Prayer): Lord, be a healing presence for all of us – perpetrator of harm and receiver of abuse. Amen.