Matthew 21:23-32; Authority

Now back in Jerusalem, after the night in Bethany and the fig tree incident on the way in to the city, Jesus is teaching in the temple. This is exactly what one would expect.

But he is approached by some rather senior authorities. They ask him who gave him the authority to do what he does and what is he authorized to do. I suppose they are referring to his ministry in general, but probably specifically to his strange entry into the city the day before and his strange action with the moneychangers.

Jesus’ answer is not really evasive, but it definitely is indirect. He ties his own authority with that of John. The leaders know that John was respected as a prophet by the people, so they dare not disparage him in public.

The parable of the two sons is pretty interesting in this context. Actually, I think they might even be young women, but the likelihood is that everyone envisioned young men.

Jesus points out the difference, with this story, about lip service and true action. It’s one thing to say you trust God but another thing to actually do so.

The temple leaders are in the position of keeping the status quo. They do not have their eyes open to the new things God is doing. Even as the people responded to John and to Jesus they did not follow. It must have hurt to be told that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter God’s kingdom while they would be left out. That probably did not endear Jesus to their hearts.

Believing John and Jesus means repentance. Repentance means a real change of life.

God is still working. We, too, can cling to the status quo.

Christians too can become blind to what God is doing in the world around them. How easily “church work” degenerates into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s active grace is doing and consequently no enthusiasm for evangelism and renewal! We say that we are going to work in the vineyard, but instead of harvesting the grapes we spend our time rearranging the stones along the path!

Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993), 248.

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