9/29/02, P19A

“He Changed His Mind”
Matthew 21: 23-32

oday's Gospel Lection records one of many times that the chief priests and elders conspired to craftily catch Jesus in a politically incorrect statement. The highly educated priests of Israel had modified their Divine Covenant to accommodate ideas from the Greeks and Romans. They knew that the people did not have much respect for them anymore and saw the purist reform prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus, as threats against their teetering castle. "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" they asked. (23, NRSV) But Jesus, as He had done before, turned the question to them. He asked, "Was John's baptism from heaven or from earth?" Thus, the foxes were cornered. If they said that John the Baptist held the authority of heaven, then the masses would have asked, "Then why did you not believe him?" but if they said that John was a fake, the people would have turned against them, for "all regarded John as a prophet." (26). Yet, Jesus' predicament was not solved for the leaders of the prevailing religious-political system would later crucify Him, even though they had to trump up charges against Him.

Mark and Luke's gospels contain similar records of this event; however, only Matthew preserves Jesus' response to the temple officials. Jesus tells a story about a man asking his two sons to go out into the vineyard to work. One said, "I will not; but later changed his mind and went." The second son said, "I will go work;" but he did not go." Then Jesus asked the leaders which of the two sons did the will of his father. Without thinking through the consequences of their answer they chose the first son, who changed his mind and did some work. Jesus then drew a link to the religious leaders who had for centuries been looking for the Messiah, but did not accept Jesus' fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. However, common sinners who had rejected spiritual teachings, and did not understand the Promise, but who had seen the miracles, heard Jesus preach and "changed their minds," by accepting Jesus as the Messiah. However, Jesus' condemnation of the priests who said no is that, "even after you saw it you did not change your minds and believe." (v.32) In other words, even after the point that any logical well educated person should have had enough evidence to believe, these stubborn priests and elders willfully refused to believe. Their high position meant more to them than the truth that they saw, and they bitterly turned Him away.

Granted, it would have been costly for the priests and elders to have accepted Jesus, but some did. We all remember how Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, came to Jesus by night to find out for himself if Jesus was genuine. He had a searching mind and an open heart. He became a follower of Jesus and later risked his own life by defending Him before other Pharisees. (Jn.7:45-52) Joseph of Arimathea also risked his fortune by defending Jesus and providing a tomb for His burial. (Mt. 27:57; Mk. 15:42)

In other words, although there is sometimes a high price to pay for changing our minds, we are all called to make the ultimate choice. Fortunately, for most of us it was a natural decision. I, for one, was reared in a parsonage where my parents brought me up in the way that I should go and eventually I made the right choice. Perhaps, as in the case of the reluctant son in Jesus' parable who first refused but later made the right choice, we too may have dodged around the choice for a while, as sometimes young rebels are prone to do. Yet, we still had to eventually choose. Personally, I played the rebel for a few years before finally yielding to Christ's claim and calling upon my life. We each can recall that event when we made the choice. Perhaps your story centered around a pastor's membership training class. Maybe a Sunday School teacher led you to the point of decision. Typically, when we share our personal stories we share similar feelings. Formerly, we felt like the faith was theirs, but now it was our own. Typically, there was some emotion that followed commitment. We are emotional beings who sometimes cry at graduations and sporting events. Certainly it is normal, even expected, that strong feelings would accompany a decision to follow Christ. We would be skeptical about the genuineness of the love between a couple who were not emotional at all at their wedding. We would wonder about folks who remain stoic after a big win by their team.

We can only hope that after the events of the Cross and Resurrection that some of the religious leaders who had grilled Jesus did change their minds. Unless they were totally closed-minded, they would have had to have been effected emotionally and intellectually by what they saw. Perhaps some of these hard hearted priests were at the Ascension of Christ. Perhaps they were some of those speaking in unlearned languages at Pentecost. I plan to look some of them up in Glory. I am sure my Dad has already located a few Old Testament Priests for we discussed this very topic when I was a young preacher boy.

We must assume that the reason that Jesus told this story was that it is applicable to our situation. All people face the same choice. Pharisees, prostitutes, elders of the people and open sinners, all must decide yea or nay. Nobody becomes a Disciple on their Grandmother's religion. Also, there are typically a few sons and daughters who were once found but now are lost again. Folks do sometimes slip away. A life of titillation without tough things like choices and going into the vineyard to work can trip us up. For those in this situation, Jesus' parable is about re-choosing to do the right thing.

We feel that Jesus had hoped for a united Church, all standing together as one, with a high level of commitment to one single cause, but it has rarely happened. Sometimes in the very beginning stages of a new movement, everyone has put aside opposing ideas and gathered allegiance around one specific idea, one goal, and one leader. Martin Luther attracted a highly loyal following in Germany around the rallying cry of Protest-antism. John Wesley built a vast network of loyal followers in England by taking Method-ism to the last, the least and the lost. But, as with other movements, the frost doesn't remain on the pumpkin for long and the movements tend to become political machines in time.

However, most of us would agree that among those who have had a vital faith experience, having made an obvious decision and having followed a path of spiritual growth, that there is a commonality of experience, a spiritually kindred bond that unites us as One People. It is Jesus' desire that all enter into that experience of the choice.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/29/02, P19A