Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Luke 21 Challenging the Authority of Jesus Christ
September 27, 2020
"In 1981, a Minnesota radio station reported a story about a stolen car in California. Police were staging an intense search for the vehicle and the driver, even to the point of placing announcements on local radio stations to contact the thief. On the front seat of the stolen car sat a box of crackers that, unknown to the thief, were laced with poison. The car owner had intended to use the crackers as rat bait.
Now the police and the owner of the Volkswagen Bug were more interested in apprehending the thief to save his life than to recover the car. Often when we run from God, we feel it is to escape His punishment. But what we are actually doing is eluding His rescue."
The gospel story for this Sunday is about repentance, turning to God. Repentance is essential to the Christian faith that we cannot ignore. Jesus' problem with the chief priests and the Jewish leaders is their hypocrisy and lacking repentance. After Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansing the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him to question his authority. "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" The two questions "intended to trap Jesus into either admitting that he has no authority from God or claiming that he comes from God, which might open him to the charge of blasphemy." Jesus was an intelligent person, for he recognized their bad intentions immediately. Jesus responded to them with another question: "Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" Jesus did not shift the subject. He connected his ministry with the ministry of John the Baptist, to demonstrate his authority comes from God, as John did. By raising this question, Jesus revealed the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the elders and their need to repent.
To answer Jesus' question, the chief priests and the elders found themselves in an awkward position with three options: "They can either (a) say what they think—that John's baptism was not from God—and face the anger of the crowds that regard John as a prophet, or (b) admit that John's baptism was from heaven, in which case they would be put to shame for not believing him," or (c) to claim not to know. To avoid embarrassment, they chose option three.
Our Lord emphasizes the chief priests and the elders' rejection of John the Baptist by telling them the parable of the wicked son. The father asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son refused his father's request but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The second son agreed to his father's request, but later, he disobeyed his father. Jesus correlates the first son with the tax collectors and the prostitutes who initially rebelled but later repented as they heard John the Baptist's message. Jesus identifies the chief priest and the elders with the second son. They have the law, but they disobeyed God.
Our Lord insulted the chief priests and the elders when he states that the notorious sinners like the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before them. The chief priests and the elders assumed that they were way better than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. They never expected anyone to tell them God prefers this dishonorable group who repented over the honored group who refused to repent. Jesus intends to say to the chief priests and the elders that when God sent John the Baptist to call them to repent, they discredited him as they discredit Jesus. Now, they will find themselves watching the sinners enter God's kingdom before them, or they will be left out of the kingdom.
Repentance and returning to God is a life journey that does not end until we die. Martin Luther teaches us that "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." To repent is not simply to regret but to change your direction. Through repentance, you experience the steadfast love of God and grace. Repentance is the key to heaven. We cannot go to heaven without repenting from anything that separates us from God.
We need to examine our lives daily and to realize the ways we break God's commandments. Like the police and car owner who searched for the thief to warn him from eating poison crackers, Jesus keeps on looking for us to warn us about sin and keep us from sin. The danger is when you and I keep running away from God's grace. That will only lead to our destruction. Our Lord invites us to repent for our own sake and our well-being. I encourage you to look at repentance as a way Jesus manifests his love for you. Through repentance, you experience God's mercy and forgiveness, which makes you whole again.
 Mitch, Curtis. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (p. 274). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.
Mitch, Curtis. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (pp. 274-275). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.