|Above the winter storm on approach to Rochester|
Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him. Matthew 21:32 The Message translationJesus had just told the parable of the two sons who were asked to go work in the vineyard. The first said he didn't want to but then later changed his mind and did. The second son immediately said he would but then never showed up for work. The question that Jesus poses to the priests and scholars in the Temple area in Jerusalem is simple: Which of these sons did the will of his father? They answer quickly and correctly that first son who did the will of the father even though he initially said he wouldn't. The other one who verbally assented but failed to follow through clearly did not.
Jesus uses their own admission to condemn them for failure to hear the word of the Divine One proclaimed by John (and by Jesus) and then act on it by changing their lives to conform to new standards of understanding and conduct. The proof should have been that crooks and whores heard John and responded by changing their lives and following a new path of righteousness. And this righteousness is defined by the will of the Divine One: to love the Divine One with our whole soul and heart and to love our neighbor (indeed even our enemies) as Jesus the Messiah loved. Further the notion of neighbor was expanded to include everyone not just those in our family or geography. Or put another way, we are to love as ourselves all people who are not like us.
Some people hear that teaching and agree with it. Perhaps they even teach it to others but nothing changes in the way they live their lives. Others hear it and realize how far they are from a life like that and changed their lives to conform to that ideal. It has been said that the most difficult teaching assignment is to teach the well educated because they can easily think that they already know everything worth knowing. In reality they have two tasks: unlearn and then learn. The leaders of the Jewish people were in that category and they, with a few exceptions, did not go through that transformative process of unlearning and then learning. The crooks and whores did and so they were doing the will of the Divine One.
So, where do I find myself? No matter how much I know, no matter how much I understand, no matter how much I think I may have changed, I always stand in need of conversion to a life that more closely adheres to this ideal. I must always remember that this ideal of Christian righteousness is inherently communal. Personal piety and rectitude is not the focus; it certainly was not for Jesus the Christ. What counted for him was the way in which we related to each other.
If I rest content with where I stand or if I focus on personal piety, I will find myself at the back of the line.