Pentecost 17 Proper 21 October 1, 2017
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Who gives Jesus his authority?
A key question in the Gospel according to Matthew is “Who is Jesus?” In today’s gospel reading the Chief Priests and elders come to Jesus as he enters the temple and ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” This is an understandable question since the previous day Jesus had entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. Who did Jesus think he was and what did he think he was doing?
Jesus knew there was no satisfactory answer so asks a question of his own indirectly answering their question; did John the Baptist work under the authority of humanity or of God? John has come proclaiming the baptism of repentance and preparing the way for Jesus the Messiah. If the religious leaders could have recognized John as working under God’s authority then they would have recognized Jesus as God’s chosen Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham and the son of God.
As Abraham’s descendants were to be a blessing to all the nations, Jesus’ family tree includes women, Gentile women; it was unusual to include women in a Jewish genealogy. Magi, Gentile foreigners possibly from modern day Iran and Iraq were the first to come and worship Jesus. The Messiah was not just for the Jews. The Kingdom of God included women and foreigners.
God inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus, but not as was expected. Jesus as the Son of David is a King, the King of the Jews, but not in the style of King Herod living in a royal palace and wearing fancy clothes. No, Jesus the Messiah comes like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Jesus is gentle; he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey as in a time of peace not war. Jesus associates with the marginalized and outcast; he eats with sinners, tax collectors, foreigners and women; and Jesus challenges the political and religious leaders. Jesus willingly takes on suffering to bring justice and mercy to Israel and the nations, even to death on a cross.
Jesus is the servant of the Lord and Israel’s representative. Matthew highlights Jesus as the faithful representative of Israel in identity and mission. Just as God brought Israel from exile in Egypt, God does the same for Jesus and his family. In contrast to Israel’s disobedience when tempted in the wilderness, Jesus proves his faithfulness to God when facing the same temptations and demonstrates the covenant loyalty that God requires of Israel. Jesus’s faithfulness, even to death, is vindicated by God in the resurrection, secondly in the temple’s destruction in AD 70 and thirdly at “the end of the age,” when Jesus will judge all humanity.
It is crucial to Matthew’s story that Jesus is the embodiment of Yahweh; Jesus enacts Israel’s redemption, fulfilling God’s promises that God will bring redemption. For example, Matthew affirms Jesus as “the lord” for whom John prepares the way, citing Isaiah’s prophecy that Yahweh will return to Zion, connecting Jesus intimately with Yahweh’s mission and even identity. Jesus is also granted the role of universal Lord and judge, a role reserved in the Old Testament Scriptures for God alone.
Jesus fulfills the covenant and promises of God found in the Old Testament. Matthew focuses particular attention on Jesus’s relationship to the Jewish law, fulfilling rather than abolishing the law by interpreting and teaching it rightly, because Jesus interprets the torah by its central qualities of mercy, justice, love, and faithfulness rather than its burdensomeness as taught by those he criticizes. It is Jesus’s teaching on the Law and the Prophets that is authoritative for his followers.
Matthew portrays Jesus as the Davidic Messiah who inaugurates the kingdom, as representative of Israel, as the embodiment of Yahweh in Israel’s restoration and as fulfiller of the scriptures. Matthew’s story begins with Jesus worshipped by the Gentile Magi and ends with the disciples worshipping Jesus and Jesus declaration that, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” and the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (MT28:18)
The frustration of the author of Matthew’s gospel is almost palatable. Matthew is writing for his community probably after Jerusalem has been destroyed in 70 AD. He has told a compelling story showing that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah and that Jesus’s authority is from God, that somehow Jesus is the incarnation of God and yet the religious authorities do not believe him. Jesus was not who they expected. Jesus did not act as they wanted him to and so, they rejected him. They were not willing to admit that they might be wrong or to change their expectations of the Messiah and of God.
A compelling question for us is “How are we like the first century religious and political leaders? Do we believe Jesus is the Messiah like the tax collectors and the prostitutes? Do we insist on our own image of God or do we fall on our knees to worship Jesus as the embodiment of God?” <pause>
The second half of today’s gospel, The Parable of the Two Sons, seems to imply that it is not sufficient to say “I believe”, but what are you going to do about it? This city of Albion, this county of Calhoun, this state of Michigan, this great country is God’s vineyard. Jesus has given us the Great Commission to tell God’s story, teaching and proclaiming the gospel to all people, and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. When God calls your name will you say, “Here I am Lord, send me”. It is ok to hesitate, to make excuses, to say I am too old or I am too young, I am too shy, I am not a public speaker. Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah did the same. The important thing is not whether you make excuses or if you even say “NO!”, the important thing is whether you actually go out into God’s vineyard and work today. Who are you to do this? You are the sons and daughters of God. This not just the work of priests and pastors, but the work of all the baptized. You do not act on your own authority, but on the authority of Jesus Christ himself who has been given all authority in Heaven and in Earth by God. Go! Proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, teach about the love and mercy and grace of our God and baptize in the name of the trinity acting on the authority of God! Amen.
 Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, Editors, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, Jeanninne K. Brown, Matthew, 950-1006, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2012.
 Ibid, 953.
 Ibid, 952.