#Tradition is the podcast for September 27, 2020. What did the Chief Priests and Elders miss? Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew21 #Tradition #Traditionalism #GodsWill #HowToKnow
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/27/2020 The 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 21:23-32.
How do you know the will of God?
Toward the end of his pre-resurrected life, Jesus did things that are clearly offensive. If you came into my town, with a big parade and people shouting “Praise God!” as you drove down Main Street, and you came to our church and started tipping things over in the narthex, cursed an apple tree and made it die, I would not think you are right in the head and I would want to stop you at the front door on Sunday morning.
The reason I say this is because that is exactly the situation here in the Gospel of Matthew. This exchange with the chief priests and elders of the Temple happened in Jerusalem at the Temple just after Palm Sunday, the cleansing of the Temple of money changers, and the cursing of the fig tree. Any good priest would want to protect the flock from false teaching, improper living, and stress to his people that false teaching can lead to a loss of salvation. Of course I would stop him because we are about the saving of souls, you know.
So, I do not fault the chief priests and the elders for confronting Jesus. In fact, I have to say, on the surface, they are measured in their approach to him. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are innocent, though. None of us are innocent. They will eventually do what they believe is the honorable thing: they will plot to kill him.
There is this thing in religion. We have to balance two things. We have to establish religious practices like the Tent of Meeting, The Judges, priests, the Temple in Jerusalem, the choosing of the Twelve, the Institution of the Eucharist, the ordination of Paul, Timothy, and apostolic succession that is the same ordination through our bishop and myself. Then there is the Holy Spirit’s calling of prophets who say and do weird things, demons being driven out, miraculous healing, and the passion of the seemingly wildness of the Spirit. On the one hand, you have the established religion of the people that leads to faithfulness in God. On the other hand, you have the passion of the calling of God’s people to live right and advance his mission. The question is, where is God in all of this?
There are some things that we do know about God. One of which is he hates hypocrisy. It is not enough to show up and offer the sacrifice of praise with incense and revisit the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross in the Eucharist. One’s heart must be right with God at the same time. We must be converted every day, humbly submitting ourselves to the will of God. All of us, our lives have become unmanageable because of sin. All of us have to believe there is a God who wants us to be part of his plan for the salvation of the world. All of us have to hand our lives over to God daily by believing in our heart and confessing with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.
At the same time, we need the Sacraments, the priesthood (and not just the priesthood of all believers), the incense offered as it is in Revelation, the remaining in the Vine as branches as we physically and spiritually receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Our liturgy, our offering of the sacrifice of thanks and praise, is not just window dressing. In fact, the prophets never went to the House of Israel to get them to NOT offer sacrifices. The prophets came to get them to offer sacrifices faithfully. The prophets didn’t come to get the people to follow a different way. They came to get people to follow THE ways of the Lord.
What might be helpful to this encounter with Jesus and our question about the will of God is something that we don’t often talk about. One of the central beliefs of Judaism in Jesus’ day is that God was going to send his Messiah. So, the whole apparatus of Temple worship and prophecy was set up to anticipate the coming of the Messiah. What is at issue here is whether or not the faithful people can see how God is fulfilling his prophecy and mission in their midst.
Part of the problem is a crisis in faith of whether or not God can do as he has done in the past. Can God part the Red Sea? Can God multiply the fishes and loaves? Can he start a revival? We, who are people of God, who are chief priests of the Temple, bishops and priests today, are we open to a revival, a renewal? Or, are we just convinced that the only way to know God is blind adherence to what was in the past. Jaroslav Pelikan was a professor of the History of Christianity at Yale and the University of Chicago who said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Are we open to God working through the traditions of our faith?
The next part of the problem is our openness to God’s incorporation of us into his plan of salvation? Are we a people who anticipate that a virgin could give birth to the Savior in our village or are we still stuck on the fact that Joseph is the boy’s father? Are we open for God to fulfill his promises? I didn’t say, are we open to God fulfilling our promises, but to fulfill his promises. Additionally, the point is, is God inviting us to give our lives over to fulfill his promises?
Too often, we think of what God can do for us in our lives. That is not what the Gospel is about. The Gospel is not about giving us status, prestige, power, comfort, a Mercedes, or even cream filled donuts and coffee in bed when you wake up (which would be my luxury of choice if I could have it). The Gospel is an invitation for you and me to be part of the mission of God.
So, the problem with the chief priests and elders of the Temple is not that they asked Jesus “By what authority do you do these things?” That is the question of people who are faithfully protecting their flock from heresy that could lead to the loss of salvation for their people. The problem is that the very people who were supposed to walk with God daily in a running conversation of faithfulness were not open to the fulfillment of the faith they had been practicing in their era, in their village, in their lives. The people who should be able to say, “Look! There is the movement of the Holy Spirit!” couldn’t see. The problem is that they HAD to ask in the first place.
Contrast this with John the Baptist’s question in chapter 11 of Matthew. He asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” That question assumes God is working through Jesus. John sees and knows. We should remember that John is the son of a chief priest, Zacharias.
The fact that Jesus asked them a question which revealed their true devotion, devotion to their authority and power, shows that they had long stopped looking for the fulfillment of God’s plan for a Messiah in their era, in their town, and in their lives. This is why they were concerned that they would either admit Jesus was from heaven or deny that John was a prophet. “We don’t know” by what authority John baptizes is actually the worst of all answers. It denies their relationship with the living God and reveals that they who ought to know don’t know.
On the other end of the scale, the prostitutes and tax collectors can say “no” to God but then be open to his fulfillment of his mission in the coming of Jesus as Savior because they KNOW they are not fulfilling the mission of God. That is one thing about people who are just outwardly sinful. They usually know it. There is no pretense. Yet, when they are in need of mercy and forgiveness they know who is and who is not of God because they know that among their crew, it is only God who would give mercy and forgiveness. So, anyone who isn’t about mercy and forgiveness is not of God.
For those who are pretending to be about mercy and forgiveness, it is so easy to convince ourselves that ritualistic purity or doctrinal purity or whatever kind of purity is mercy and forgiveness. If you are thinking it is OK to be cruel because you are doing the will of God, then you are sadly mistaken. God is an invitation to mercy and forgiveness.
Last week, I asked us to think of the passage from the vantage point of those who needed justice. This week, I am asking us to think of things from the vantage point of those who are supposed to know the mission of God, know God, and are awaiting his fulfilling of his mission. How do WE not repeat the mistake of the chief priests and the elders of the Temple? Well, I have some questions that I use, but have finally written down here, that I use in spiritual direction to help people discern if something in their life is the will of God.
- Is it something God would do? We can know that by reading the scriptures every day and attending upon the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Prayer, and the highest prayer of the Church, The Eucharist, keeps us connected to God.
- Is it something that fulfills and advances the mission of God? We know that by being disciplined in reading the Scriptures, Christian history, and by confessing our sins regularly. We should examine our conscience daily and ask God for forgiveness.
- Is it something that brings the traditions of our faith alive? Remember, the sin of the chief priests and elders was that they could not see the Messiah which God had promised. It isn’t that they could not identify what was not of God. It was that they didn’t recognize that their tradition was coming alive. Jesus brought the faith tradition alive.
- Is it something that is about bringing mercy and forgiveness of Jesus to the world? If it can give mercy and forgiveness so that others are renewed, then it is of God.
- Is it something that changes us so that we are more open to God and his mission? Is it something that gives us the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to God? Does it advance God’s mission?
Finally, don’t be like the chief priests and elders. Be like the prostitutes and tax collectors. Wait, well, you know I mean.
God bless the preaching of the Gospel in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2020.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian