5 February 2023 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
O LORD, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? 24 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? 26 But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. 27 And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. 31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him. Matthew 21:23-32
Today, Septuagesima Sunday, begins the period of Shrovetide (Pre-Lenten period) in the Church Calendar. The great worth of the Church Calendar gives us a chronological perspective of the life of Christ and His Gospel. This is a time to begin preparing ourselves for the solemn observance of Lent which leads up to Calvary.
In the Gospel text for today, we note that Jesus has entered into the gates of Jerusalem for the last time in His earthly ministry. We read that Jesus was met by multitudes of the City of Jerusalem who welcomed Him with royal acclamation throwing before the feet of His donkey their garments, palm branches, and shouting Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (Matt 21:9) Ironically, the same multitudes would be screaming for His crucifixion in the courtyard of Pontius Pilate less than one week later. (Revealing the fickle nature of man’s heart) We saw in verses 12-13 of this same chapter that the first order of business for Christ in Jerusalem was to enter into the Temple and cleanse it of the money changers and those who those who dealt in commerce by buying and selling therein. He further demonstrated His Divinity by healing the sick and lame, and restoring sight to the blind. This was considered a terrible offense, not by those healed, but strangely enough, by the Pharisees and rulers of the Temple. They burned in their jealousy and greed for such a compassionate soul as Christ. To these calloused culprits, compassion and love were undesirable traits, especially if it threatened their power.
The question at hand is one of AUTHORITY! The Scribes, Pharisees, and rulers of the Jews had their own neat little nest built which separated them from what they considered to be the common rabble of the people. They were much better, you see, than the common people. They had had their tickets punched and been granted this high status simply because THEY deserved it – or so they believed. Though their station was a Godly station, they disqualified themselves through a lack of love and obedience to the God whom they pretended to serve. Whatever authority they had was no longer of God, but of political man. It may be true that the overwhelming number of pretenders to the cloth today is likewise without authority from God to preach. It is my firm belief that, though I am less than I should be, I am in the first instance a preacher under authority of God. A true and devout Church (the AOC) has confirmed that belief in my ordination to Holy Orders. Being consecrated a bishop does not relieve one of his role to serve as priest and preacher, and the ultimate authority for his Calling must come from God. It matters not the number of heads touched in Apostolic Succession if those heads have not hearts touched and called by God. God is the prime authority and, in the end, the ONLY authority for preaching. The authority to perform works of righteousness does not derive from men, but from God.
Beginning in our assigned text, we learn that, after threatening their profit margin in Temple sales, the chief priests and elders confronted Jesus to know by what power He had worked such ruin to their daily sales: and they wanted to know by what authority He did such wonderful miracles of healing. In my thinking, it is flabbergasting to learn that they considered this a thing that required some superficial authority of some council of Temple wimps to grant. A miracle is an authority unto itself, for only God can do these things. I am stunned to believe that these men KNEW the miracles came from God, but chose to ignore the fact for the sake of their own impoverished souls. 23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? This is the day following His cleansing of the Temple and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. By now, they have rallied their political forces to challenge Jesus. These deceivers were hoping to catch Jesus off balance and catch Him in a slip of the tongue – perhaps a claim that would justify them in accusing the Son of God of blasphemy! It is not an easy debate when the Other Side is able to read your words before they are spoken and your motives before they are revealed. Their pettiness is likened to the lowest officials of the Palace asking the King’s Son by what authority does He wear garments of royalty. Today, churches such as the AOC and other of the faithful, are ridiculed for holding so tenaciously to the Ancient Landmark remaining faithful to morals and virtues long grown stale in popular culture.
All who ever argued with God before have lost the contest – either through ignorance of His Will, or power. These wicked priests and elders are about to have the same experience – an experience to which they should, by now, be accustomed. He thwarted their best wisdom so many times that a continued debate makes them appear as imbeciles. 24And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? The battle, though the smoke will rise a bit more but briefly, puts the chief priests and elders squarely in their place. There is no answer that will achieve their original design after this inquiry from the embodiment of Wisdom. The subsequent reasoning of the Temple leaders reveals the poverty of their argument:
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? 26 But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. 27 And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. At the end of this chapter and this discourse, having lost any advantage by subterfuge, they resort to their favored weapon – brute force. However, being politicians and not men of God, they feared the people and burned in their evil hearts awaiting a more opportune moment of treachery.
Now comes a parable of two sons whose natures are at contrast one with the other. It is a short, but beautiful, parable of hope and grace to you and me; but it could also have applied to the Temple leaders had they had hearts that were acceptable to God.
28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. 31 Whether of them twain did the will of hisfather? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
You and I may find our own identity revealed in this wonderful parable. The Two Sons featured represent all of professing Christendom combined. We all most likely fall into one category or the other. Please do not insist that you have never been a publican or an harlot, for you and I certainly have been in one sense or the other. We have sold out our hearts for what we considered a cheap profit at some point (harlot). We have denied God at some point with our unfaithful lifestyles or public testimony (again harlot, for spiritual adultery against the Bridegroom is greater sin than physical adultery). We have all benefitted the interest of the world more than the interest of God at some point in our lives. (Publican). The publican was a Jewish public tax collector who worked for the bosom enemies of the Jews – the Roman Empire.
The parable presents us with two different members of one supposed family. One will be a true son (one who at first has rejected God through his life’s choices, but relents later and comes to God), and the other unfaithful to the father (who, like the modern professed Christian who enthusiastically, and with great fanfare insist on following Christ but later renege).
Alfred Lord Tennyson has written in The Ancient Sage:
Faith reels not in the storm of warring words,
She brightens at the clash of ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’
She sees the Best that glimmers through the Worst,
She feels the sun is hid but for a night,
She spies the summer through the winter bud,
She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls,
She hears the lark within the songless egg,
She finds the fountain where they wailed ‘Mirage!’
We are directed to the key to Godliness and that is Faith in God. Whether that faith comes to the desperate sinner’s heart, or the accomplished artist; the morally but godless upright, or the depraved drunk; the mistress or prostitute; the physician or the addict – is immaterial to the result. The faith that comes to the unsuspecting heart through the unmerited grace of God is ALWAYS sufficient for thee.
Promises are not taken with any degree of solemnity in today’s society. A newly elected President may swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, yet act with immediate dispatch to dismantle that Constitution once the swearing is done. A bridegroom or bride may swear an oath before God to remain faithfully wed “until death do them part” and yet in the next year apply for divorce. Their promises before God seem to have meant very little to them.
So many evangelical churches today will go to great lengths to gain a public profession of faith from their charges, but leave them wondering by the roadside of faith as to what more may bless their souls. There is no nurturing, so often the profession of faith will die of neglect. How can we know if the profession of faith by a stranger who enters one night at church is genuine, especially if that stranger has not come to learn who Jesus is in an intimate way?
If we say that we believe and later abandon our profession, are we not as the second son? If we have lived lives of sin and vice for many years, yet come to knowledge of our Lord so true that all of our life is turned upside down, do we not represent the first son. Which would you rather be – the first who said he would not obey, and later came to obey: or the second who said he would obey, and later disobeyed? Would we not be as the seven women of Isaiah 4:1? And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.
(Isaiah 4:1) Do we, like these seven women, desire only to be called by the name of Christ – CHRISTIAN – and not wear His garments of righteousness? Do we prefer to be identified with His Holy Name for the sake of appearance by eating our own bread and not His Bread of Life? Are we nominal Christians only when we enter into public life, or the political scene; or do we remain committed to the Christian faith in season and out? Which are you, my friends?