28 Sep 2014
“‘I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.’” (Matt. 21:31) In the name …
When Holly and I went to the recruitment rally for this year’s CROP Walk, we grabbed a few balloons to take home with us. Well, actually I took them all home. Kid at heart I guess. But what I don’t like about balloons is having to blow them up. You blow into them and they’re right in front of your face. And as they get close to getting full I’m always afraid they’re going to blow up right here. (Blow up balloon) There’s still all of this to play left in the balloon. There’s room for the balloon to get bigger, but I just don’t want to take the chance of it popping in my face. That’s why I stop blowing it up before it gets anywhere near exploding.
Well, today Jesus gives us a similar lesson of caution, of not letting us get too full of ourselves, of not letting us force too much hot air into the balloon of our spiritual egos. Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Two Sons that it’s not how much we say about our faith that matters; it’s what we actually do in the name of our faith that counts. And that’s the cautionary tale that should keep us from blowing up the balloon of our spiritual ego until it can explode in our face. This is a parable that keeps us grounded by asking us to back up our words with examples. If we can’t point to the actual examples of our faith being lived, then we’re only blowing more and more hot air into that balloon, and at some point we all know what’s going to happen (Pop balloon).
We need to remember that our spiritual responsibility is to hear Jesus’ words as meant for us. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem for His one and only trip to the Holy City. He confronts and is confronted by the religious authorities of that capital city. And while standing right in the precincts of the Temple courtyard, while speaking directly to the chief priests and the Jerusalem elders, Jesus offers the Parable of the Two Sons. Our job though is to imagine Jesus’ words as also spoken to us. His words were a condemnation of religious pride and arrogance that were based on place, title and ritual. But we don’t have the leisure of imagining that Jesus’ words were only meant as a condemnation of the pride and arrogance of the Jewish Temple authorities of the long ago past. They are timeless because in them we should hear a cautionary tale against any and all religious pride, even in our church lives today.
Jesus wasn’t impressed by the titles and the grand ritual of the Temple, and He’s none-too-polite with His words of condemnation. To these very uptight and sanctimonious men, Jesus concedes nothing to decorum: “Prostitutes,” Jesus exclaims, “are going to walk into the kingdom of God ahead of you guys.” I can hear them gasping in disbelief. No one dared to talk to them like this. Prostitutes were stoned to death for their immorality, and these were the guys who gave the order. And Jesus was saying, “I’m not impressed.” Jesus challenges them to listen to their own judgment. After the Parable of the Two Sons, Jesus asks them which one really did the will of the father, and the priests and the elders all replied in unison that it was the son who actually went into the vineyard and worked. Well, says Jesus, the prostitutes are changing their lives. They’re actually listening and looking for God. They’re not only speaking religious platitudes. They’re crying over their past faults and their crying about now being welcomed by God the Father.
Again, this isn’t only about Jewish Temple priests and long ago prostitutes. This becomes God’s eternal word when we hear them as a lesson for our lives. So I’m walking into a store in my collar and a table is set-up at the entrance for a group passing out their literature and accepting donations. They’re part of Teen Challenge. The group was founded in the early 1960’s by Rev. David Wilkerson. He was a small town, country pastor in Pennsylvania who felt called to venture into the scariest parts of New York City to preach to the gangs. He didn’t know where to go or how to start, but he went. He preached on street corners. He had a switchblade pulled on him. But he went. The young guy sitting at the table outside of the store I was entering had probably seen more things in his few years on this earth than I will ever see, and yet he wore a hat that read “Jesus is my boss.”
Jesus doesn’t care what we were. Jesus cares about who we are. When Jesus looks upon us all, even the most troubled and troubling among us, He can see what we can be. When a person lets himself or herself trust in Jesus enough to trust what Jesus sees, that’s what we should be hearing when Jesus says even the prostitutes are entering heaven ahead of the priests and elders. It takes a lot to trust Jesus’ vision rather than our own eyes especially when the two seem in obvious conflict, but that’s the trust that defines our faith and inspires our actions. I’m sure that the young man with the “Jesus is my boss” hat on would never have imagined a few years ago who he would become. That’s what believing is supposed to be like. This is what Jesus is talking about when He talks about the prostitutes entering the kingdom of God. The young man let himself trust in what Jesus saw.
That’s what we’re asked to do today. We can’t just keep blowing hot air into the balloon. At some point it’s going to give way. Our faith is going to be judged not by what we say about Jesus as we come here for such a small part of our week, but what we do for Jesus and what we do in Jesus’ name all the time because of coming here this small part of our week. That’s the trust motivating Jesus’ words about the prostitutes entering heaven. That all-encompassing trust is what I heard when the kids sang Celebrate God at this year’s Youth Retreat. The choir is singing it for the first time today. Listen to those words as a continuation of the sermon. Sing those words. And try to feel the message of “Celebrate God in all that you do, and God will be with you.” For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo