Corona Sabbath 28 AUTHORITY and INTEGRITY Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

This post focuses on a story associated with Jesus that may speak to us about voting in this contentious election season.

Sue Sherwood reads Matthew 21:23-32.

Video from Sue.

Jesus entered the Temple precincts and began teaching. The chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?”

“And I,” replied Jesus, “will ask you a single question; if you give me the answer, I will tell you my authority for these actions. What was the origin of John’s right to baptize? Was it divine or was it human?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘divine,’ he will respond, ‘Then why did you refuse to believe him?’ But if we say ‘human,’ we have the people to fear, for they regard John as a prophet.” So they replied to Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said in reply, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Jesus continued, “What do you think? There was a landowner who had two children. The landowner approached the elder and said, ‘My child, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The first child replied, ‘No, I won’t,’ but afterwards regretted it and went. The landowner then came to the second child and said the same thing. The second child said in reply, ‘I’m, on my way,’ burt never went. Which of the two did what was wanted?”

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “The truth is, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kin-dom of God before you. When John came walking on the road of justice, you didn’t believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you didn’t repent and believe.”

Reflection from Kim on video

It’s an election year. A presidential election year. Have you noticed? When the COVID pandemic started back in March, I thought, Well, at least now we don’t have to hear about the election constantly. But as the date draws nearer, we are hearing about the election all the time.

And while I may bash the campaigning, make no mistake. Elections matter. I hope everyone seeing this post will VOTE, and encourage everyone they know and come in contact with that has breath and blood in their bodies to vote!

But, oh this electioneering! All of these claims and counter claims. Boasting and bashing. And worst of all, fearmongering.

Today we heard a story in which Jesus addresses the issue of authority. Who has authority? To whom should authority be given? Whom should we trust? How do we decide? These are the concerns swirling among the religious leaders, Jesus, his followers, and the community for whom the gospel was written. And these kinds of questions continue to confront us, especially in a presidential election year.

In this context, we are told of Jesus telling a story about two brothers. This is a story that is supposed to be enigmatic and have multiple meanings. That’s how teaching was done in that setting.

So there are these two brothers. And the father wants them to go work in the field. One brother says, Yes, of course, no problem, and then doesn’t do it. The other brother says No, I don’t feel like it, got other plans, and then rethinks things and heads out to the fields to work.

So, Jesus says, who is the better one? Whom do you trust? Who deserves authority? Well, the religious leaders stand with the brother who went out to work. The determination is made not by the promises spoken but by the action taken. So behavior, action, deeds, are the determinant. Actions speak louder than words, as we say.

So in this election season, filled with lots and lots and lots of messaging, words, words, and more words, we can think about voting for, giving authority to, placing our trust in, people who have done things for the common good. Taken action, been involved in making a difference for the betterment of all. People who have a track record of self giving service to the community. The ones who have been working in the fields.

In choosing who to vote for, we can base our decisions not on what the campaigns are saying but on the actual actions of the candidates. And, thanks to the internet we have access to that kind of information. What has the candidate actually, factually, done?

And there is something else about this story that relates to elections and voting. These two brothers. One says he will go work in the fields and then doesn’t do it. Maybe he says it just to placate the parent, get the old man off his back, look like a good son. But he doesn’t do it. That is certainly is not what we would call good character.

Then there is the other brother. He says he won’t help. Maybe he doesn’t feel like it. He’s busy. He’s mad at the dad about something else. Who knows. But then he goes out and helps in the field. Yes, he does do the right thing, but he isn’t exactly exemplary either.

So, in this story, really neither son is perfect. The ideal. A pie in the sky version of virtue. And that is something very important to keep in mind relating to voting. Despite what is said, about the candidates, boasting and bashing, they are all human. And that means none of them are perfect. None are the virtuous ideal. All are a mixture. They are all capable of doing good things as well as capable of messing things up. All are fallible. All are imperfect. All have made mistakes. They are all human. No more. No less.

I got campaign email this week from someone who is in office and would like to remain in office. And in the email, he says, “they IMPEACHED me earlier this year for being a PERFECT PRESIDENT.” [sic] Remember that story attributed to Jesus about the two brothers. No one is a perfect president. Period.

I like this story of the two brothers. While it sheds some light on voting, this story is also about the authority that we give to religion and religious leaders. The situation was a challenge to the authority of Jesus. And what comes out of it is look at what is happening. Look at what is being done. Look at the actions. In another gospel story, Jesus is asked about his standing, and in the story he says look at what you see, then decide. In the story of Jesus recruiting some fisherman to join him, he says, come and see. With Jesus, it is about looking at what he does. It is about actions, behavior, treatment of others. It’s about incarnating unconditional, universal love.

With Jesus, it is not about presenting a theological treatise or a set of rules. There is no self promoting speech to entice adherents. It’s not about a slick, packaged image and a promised pay off. Jesus simply says, look at what I am doing. See for yourself. Then decide. Decide if this is a way of life and love and joy for you and for the world.

Jesus teaches us to decide who to trust and who to give authority to based on behavior and actions not promises and propaganda. Jesus knew that who we trust matters. The consequences can mean life or death for us and for others.

So make sure to vote.


(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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