Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Lectionary Reading: Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)
Today, it seems the height of hubris for a religious leader to question the authority of Jesus. We sit with the advantage of hindsight and understand who Jesus is and was. But in that day and age, rabbis didn't just put out a shingle and start teaching others. Rabbis were first disciples. They were students under the tutelage of an established teacher.
You learned how to be a rabbi by observing the habits, scriptural interpretations and emphases that your master followed. At some point, if you progressed enough, the rabbi would bless you as a student to become a rabbi of your own.
So when the chief priests and elders question Jesus, they are wanting to know, "Who did you study under?"
As we see the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, some scholars think that this represented a disciple/rabbi relationship and that the baptism was John's blessing of Jesus as a rabbi. They point to the timeline that the public ministry of Jesus begins following his baptism.
So Jesus in turn asks them if they would support John's ministry as authoritative. Jesus must realize that if they wouldn't support John, they wouldn't support him either. And so when they refuse to answer, he does as well.
Then Jesus tells them a parable of two sons. This parable basically warns them of their practice of social standing. The caste of unclean sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes are moving ahead of them spiritually. This would have been insulting to any priest or elder who would have placed themselves in God's favor over the likes of these.
Notice the posture of this omega wolf - lowest
in the hierarchy of the pack. Humans have their
own pack hierarchies.
How do we offer this kindness to others in today's society? Social standing is alive and well in the 21st century. We still have pecking orders. How do we allow the kindness of ignoring social strata become a Christian virtue that helps us navigate these chaotic waters?
Photo by The Wasp Factory via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.