Matthew 21:32
When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.
There are a number of times in the Gospels that Jesus compares and contrasts the reaction of the leaders of his day to the difference between John the Baptist and himself. That is not directly a part of the story this weekend. Instead we have what is a very important parable.
It can really be summed up this way: some people are willing to pay “lip – service” to the call of holiness that God gives, but they never really commit to following God.
Without intending to be political, I think we see this in far too many people in our society today. It is not limited to those in high profile lives; nor is it limited to only one side of the political spectrum.
There are really multiple issues at stake in this gospel story today. 1) It is not just about those who pay “lip – service” to following God. 2) It is not just about those who choose to reject following God. 3) It is not just about those who ridicule those who follow God. 4) Nor, is it on the other side, just about those who are faithful to holiness in their lives.
The prophetic message from Ezekiel should make us stop in the middle of this craziness of our society. Listen to the simple question from God: “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” Are we willing to look with the eyes of God? Or are we going to stay in our own pettiness and not listen to the voice of God that calls us out of the darkness into the light of holiness? I contend that our society is in an ever darkening morass.
Listen again to the strong encouragement that comes from St. Paul: “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the spirit, any compassion and mercy… Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped…”
There are those in our society who seem to want to name themselves as God, to grasp at being God, rather than follow the attitude of Christ! They do not understand the call to holiness and humility that is the hallmark of the Christian life. This is what the first son in the parable today did. He humbled himself, and chose to do as his father asked.
Yes, it is simple to say it this way, but it is not easy to apply it to our individual lives. Today, we are taught that our own self-worth, our own dignity, our value resides in what is a truly empty way of life. Look at the vacuous way of life that is being portrayed as valuable, especially in the areas of entertainment.
There are few who are vocal in Hollywood who appear willing to seek humility in their way of life. I can think of only a handful of performers generally accepted in our society as good that are truly humble and servants of the example to holiness. In the example Hollywood leaves us, we are led into a distortion of the gospel of Jesus, or a complete rejection of it.
Try rereading the section we have from Philippians. How does your life compare to the example that Jesus gave? “Our attitude must be that of Christ’s.” Our way of living must emulate his humility and holiness. This is not something our world wants to see. But it is something our world NEEDS to see. It is 1) Holiness of life is not weakness. 2) Holiness of life is genuine power. 3) Holiness of life is the call that God gives to be fully human, fully alive. 4) Holiness of life is the destiny that God has put before each one of us.
Jesus criticizes the Pharisees in another section of Scripture for their criticism of: John the Baptist on one extreme and himself on the other extreme. The Pharisees painted those extremes as a way to dismiss John the Baptist and Jesus.
Time and again, in our day, we see people trying to paint others into extreme positions so that they can dismiss them as irrelevant, or against the good or, in some places, calling them evil.
This is not the attitude of Christ. This is the unfair attitude of human beings trying to justify themselves, instead of seeking to live in God’s ways – to live in holiness and humility.
It is time for all of us to stop fighting Our Father in heaven, and instead of saying “I will not go,” “I will not follow,” or as Satan supposedly said, “I will not serve.” It is time for us all to “have the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”
To put it another way, as the writer of Proverbs said: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” Amen.