#WhoSays is the podcast for October 1, 2017. The leaders of the Temple were in a tense moment. Jesus had just knocked over the money changing tables in the Temple and they asked him a simple question. Jesus’ answer was classic and sassy. This does have something to do with your life. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #BuddyBench #SesameStreet #LordoftheFlies #Matthew21 #Temple #LordFirst
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For The Church of Saint Raphael the Archangel, Munster, IN and My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/1/2017 The 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 21:23-32.
They have these benches on playgrounds now in schools everywhere. They even have one at the elementary school closest to my home. They are called “Buddy benches”. The idea is that when a child doesn’t have a friend and they would like one, they go and sit on the bench. The children at the school are taught that when someone sits on the bench, they want a buddy. The other children are encouraged to go and become that child’s buddy. I love it.
When parents talk about school and the playground, we think “Sesame Street.” When kids talk about the playground, it is more like “Lord of the Flies.” From the very earliest times, children I know have an idea of who they are allowed to be friends with and who they are not allowed to befriend.
It is still common to have the “who says?” conversations. Those who somehow place themselves in or are placed in authority on the playground will often ask the question of others who question their actions or their position. When a new child moves in from a new community and they are good looking, smart, charming, it is easy to imagine someone saying, “Who says you can come in here and…” well, basically be you?
This is the dilemma in which the leaders of the Jews find themselves in this passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus has just toured the country from top to bottom. He has been preaching like no other preacher. He has been healing like no other healer. He has been reaching people the church authorities could only dream to reach. He is forgiving the sins of those that were labelled as unforgivable. Consequently, he is wildly popular.
It is a misunderstanding to think that people do not want to be at peace with God. I have never found this to be true. In fact, after spending the summer ministering in the local park, I can tell you that people want nothing more than to be one with God. People have a sense of fairness. People know the nature of God is generous (as we saw last week), kind, merciful (as Psalm 103 tells us), seeking to touch the hearts of his people (as Jeremiah 31:31ff. tells us), and God wants to be one with his people (as the entire New Testament tells us).
People also know that they cannot continue to live any way they want. They know they have to live a faithful life. That is not the issue. The issue is people want to live a forgiven life. Ask anyone who has been divorced, for example. I have rarely met someone who denies that they made mistakes and that their former spouse made mistakes. Usually the biggest mistake they made was getting married in the first place. Yet, what I have found is that they want to make their life right.
Jesus Christ came to help those whose lives are chaotic, complicated, and messy. He came to help those whose lives “missed the mark” and they know it. This is the guy who just prior to this passage comes parading into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He then turns over the tables of the money changers in the Temple courtyard.
So, the atmosphere of this passage is very contentious. The Jewish leaders do have a right to ask this guy, who they see as the new kid on the playground, “Who says you can do this?” Who says you can question our way of life? Who says you can tell us what we are doing is wrong? Who says you can just go throughout the countryside healing the sick without having come to us for our approval first?
If the spirit of the question was one that was collegial and seeking the truth, to include Jesus in the community, then that would be one thing. The fact of the matter is that the Jewish authorities are the playground bullies at this point. Their actions of laying heavy burdens on people who just want to be free from their sins is well known. The money changers in the Temple were necessary for people to purchase the sacrifices they needed to make, but it was a system fraught with abuse. The authorities did nothing about it and benefitted from it. Jesus has bucked their exclusion of people from forgiveness of sins and healing in the countryside and is now bucking their trend of fraudulently benefiting from the sacrificial system.
[It is one of the reasons we will not be asking for a donation for services the Church should be doing anyway, like baptism prep, religious education, marriage prep, etc. for members of our parish.]
I have to remind us that my mother used to say, “If you have to play games, don’t play by other people’s rules.” This is exactly what Jesus is doing. He turns the tables and answers a question with a question that exposes the motives of the authorities. When Jesus asks, “Was the baptism of John of God or of men?” he is asking basically, “can you even tell what is of God or not?” The authorities turn out to be more worried about their own authority and popularity than they are about knowing what is of God and doing it.
We should know that this is not across the board and it is not unusual. What I mean is that just because the leaders or a particular leader does something doesn’t mean the people and the other leaders are the same. Secondly, whenever there are power structures, in a town, in a family, in a job, or on a playground, there is this always the chance of corruption of power. People just forget that power and authority are meant to serve humanity, not subdue humanity.
What the authorities miss is that the answer to the question “Who says you can go around healing people, forgiving people, and turning peoples’ lives around?” is simple. The One through whom the heavens and the earth were created can do these things. The One who was with the Father from the beginning, but now is Incarnate before us, He is the one who can do these things. Jesus, he can do these things.
I want to point out one last thing. Before we get all condemning of the Jewish authorities, we need to realize that we have our own school playgrounds. It is the playground of our own lives. We often will give authority to all kinds of outside forces who agree with us or please us. Yet, when the Lord of the Universe shows up in our lives, we will often reject him because he is asking us to let him have his rightful place in the universe, especially the universe of our lives.
Do we recognize the Lordship and power of Jesus Christ in our lives? Do we let his uplifting power that we are worried will take away our autonomy get in the way of us being forgiven? Do we cling to our sins because they are comforting to us? Do we insist that our way is the only way? Do we need to have verification and proof of Jesus’ existence and love?
Even after 2,000+ years, the message is startling and new. You can be forgiven of your sins through the God of the Universe who came down, stood for truth and justice, and then died to make a way for you to be with him forever and ever. Are we so stuck in our ways, so used to the ways things have always been, that we cannot accept the forgiveness of God? Or, can we rejoice that sins are forgiven, people are healed, and the universe is being renewed?
There is a buddy bench for us. It is called the Church. I think we can rejoice. 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, 2017.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian