A Question with a Question
This week’s text is Matthew 21: 23-32. The passage starts out with Jesus doing what is so irritating when having a discussion/disputation with someone; He answers a question with a question. The chief priests and elders of the temple want to know by what authority is Jesus doing the things He is doing. In fine, irritating fashion Jesus asks these people whether the baptism of John came from heaven or from humans. If they answer, then Jesus will answer their question. The elders know this is a trap, for either answer puts them in a difficult position, just as their question was intended to put Jesus in an uncomfortable position. They beg off answering and therefore Jesus does not answer them. At least you can claim biblical authority the next time you irritatingly answer a question with a question.
The next section appears unrelated to the first, for it has Jesus telling a parable of two sons. He is inquiring which one did the will of his father. Is it the one who said he would not help, but then did, or the one who said he would but did not? Obviously the first son is the one who did his father’s will. These parts of the text appear random, but they are related.
These texts are related, for in the second part of the text Jesus reveals the answers to the questions raised in the first part. Jesus’s response to the obvious answer given to the parable of the two sons reveals much. He states clearly that even tax-collectors and prostitutes are going into God’s kingdom ahead of these folks. The reason Jesus gives is that the tax-collectors and prostitutes believed John when he came to them, and the chief priests and elders did not. Even after these people saw what John was doing, they still refused to believe him. This reveals that the answer the temple folks refused to give about John is that clearly, he came from heaven, that is from God. At the same time, it reveals that Jesus’s authority is also from heaven. How else could Jesus state so clearly that John came from heaven if Jesus is not claiming the same authority? Who else but one who came from God can state with great assurance who is going into the kingdom of God and in what order?
We should not judge too harshly the tepid response of the temple elite, after all we have the benefit of hindsight. On the other hand, our hindsight is driven by our belief in Jesus as the Risen Son of God, and our trust in His good and gracious word. This is a revealing passage, but for us it is an almost ho-hum reminder of who Jesus is and what He is claiming for Himself. Ho-hum or not, ours is simply to believe in His authority and what He has given us, then leave the temple and go out and obey.
Praise Be to God