Change your Mind
The ability of human beings to change our minds forms the basis of how we live our lives together. It is a noble and somewhat comforting thing to know that just because we have proclaimed an opinion, there still exists the possibility that there could be new facts or circumstances presented that would occasion us to change our mind about something.
Unfortunately, the human ability to change one’s mind is often lifted up in politics as a sign of weakness or as an inability to lead. Changing one’s mind can bring in, at times, an indication of instability or the constant presence of the possibility of change itself. And, of course, human beings don’t like change unless it is a change in our favor rather than someone else’s.
Today’s Gospel text from Matthew (Matthew 21: 23-32) is a story about authority and repentance. It is a story about not only God’s desire to have humanity change our minds regarding God’s Son, but that we should do so because God changed God’s mind about us!
The chief priests and elders confronted Jesus after he had entered the temple and thrown out the money-changers (thereby disrupting the local economy). He was healing the sick and the lame (and so disrupting the order of society by restoring the crippled to health). But rather than worshipping Jesus, rather than confronting the facts that were in front of their faces, or come to believe in him, the religious authorities instead tried to trap Jesus so that they could call him a heretic! “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Questioning the Questioner
But Jesus turned the tables on the chief priests and elders by asking them a question in return. (We call that a confirmation teacher trick: answering a question with a question.)
Jesus knew what was behind the question, but rather than answering it directly, he sought to draw it out into the light. So he turned it back on the scribes and priests: “Answer me this question, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?”
Have you ever witnessed Hebrew scholars and teachers debating a religious question with each other? All sides with the exact same text in front of them, and yet, landing all over the place on how to interpret it. It is an amazing sight to see and hear, and one that Christian religious authorities would do well to encourage in our own faith culture.
The desire that we have, as Western Christians, to have all of the questions of our faith and God settled in black and white once and for all is one of the saddest things that can have occurred in modern Christian thought. The rabbinical ability to take the Hebrew Scriptures apart, and put them back together again, all without losing their faith or their religion, is one of the things, I believe, that has allowed the Jewish faith to remain so resilient despite all the evil that has befallen the Jewish people in history.
There is a saying that goes something like this: “there is so much more for us to learn in the cracks between the words, and in the sentences and the thoughts behind them.”
So, Jesus took apart that question. And after throwing it back to them, the religious leaders discovered the trap. If they said John was baptizing people because he was on a mission from God, then why did the chief priests and scribes not believe him?
But if the religious authorities said it was a human baptism, the crowd would turn against them. So they plead the fifth: “we do not know.” And in that moment, Jesus succeeded in taking away all of their authority. If you don’t know then what do you know? If you don’t know, Jesus says, then why should I tell you?
He then proceeded to tell them the parable of the man and his two sons. One who says I won’t go and then does and one who says he will and then doesn’t. It is a parable of walking the walk versus talking the talk. If you say you are religious but aren’t, what does that mean to God? It is the one who confesses doubt into belief, and then changes their mind—that is the person God is after.
So, who are you?
Do we say we are religious and church-going, yet outside the doors of the church we commit sins against fellow humans?
Do we say we love everyone, but in our hearts carry a list of exceptions?
Do we say we are forgiving, and yet there are still those waiting to hear those words from our lips?
When you leave wherever it is you are today (the presence of this Holy Spirit), and go out into the world and start preaching this word of grace and mercy—the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ—people are going to start showing up wondering if what you say is true.
How will they find us?
People of a word that is worth nothing? Or people of The Word, who are thankful not only that these new believers changed their minds, but that God changed God’s mind about us, as well.