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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pentecost XX • The Rev. John R. Spangler, Jr.

Lexegete ™ | Year A | Matthew
September 28, 2008 (Lectionary 26)
Complementary Series
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9 (6)
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32
Color: Green

Semicontinuous Series
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 (4)
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

September 29, 2008

Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22 (20-21); Revelation 12:7-12;
Luke 10:17-20
Color: White

1a. CONTEXT - Matthew 21:23-32

Having entered the temple and deflected the chief priest's and elders'
challenge to his authority, Jesus responded with a series of three parables

(Pentecost 19 - 21) in order to expose the temple leadership for what it
truly was. Our gospel reading for Pentecost 19 is the first of those three,
known often as the parable of the "two sons." It is probably Matthew's own
composition since it is unique to this gospel story and seems deliberately;
integrated wtih the previous challenge encounter (21:23-27) by means of
the baptism of John.

Failing to entrap the leaders by asking them from whence John's
Baptism had come, Jesus now tells a parable in which his temple
opponents respond to what Paul Minear calls a "trigger question": "Which
of the two (sons) did the will of his father?" (21:31).

While some interpreters understand this parable as part of the
indictment of the chief priests and elders (Gundry, p. 422), others connect
this story to a pattern of Jewish/Gentile relations. Luke Johnson puts the
parable squarely in the face of a theologically bankrupt and barren temple
household (Johnson, p. 191).

It is profitable to this parable against the backdrop of a Jewish
community factionalized into camps of Jewish Christians and Pharisaic
Jews traumatized by the destruction of the Temple (circa a.d. 70). The full
force of the Matthean Jesus' wrath against pharisaic hypocrisy with
respect to the Law and the messianic kingdom comes in chapter 23. But
already in these three parables, privilege of first entry into the kingdom,
tenancy of the vineyard, and guest status at the marriage feast are lost by
those traditionally postured to receive them and given to others.

When entry into the kingdom of God is offered first to "tax collectors
and harlots" Matthew is pointing out an untraditional group for model
discipleship. He has likened tax collectors to community troublemakers:
"If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile
and a tax collector" (18:17). On the other hand, form the call of Matthew
the tax collector, Jesus is ready to make such persons insiders (cf. 9:9ff.).

Matthew's Jesus is hardly leading an invective against the Torah, nor is
Matthew's frame of mind anti-semitic. He gives Jesus a voice in an
intramural struggle for the integrity of Israel and of Jewish Christianity
whose traditional leaders and keepers failed to either interpret or live the
Law. The destruction of the Temple, for example, bolstered the Christian
point of view that the Temple had been in the charge of an ill-equipped
leadership, unable to understand the meaning of the heart of Israel, the
Law of God. Matthew kept Mark's figuration of this barrenness of the
Temple in the form of the withered fig tree (21:18f.).

Insightful scholars point out that in these three parables, Jesus turns
the challenge aroundll, so that it is the temple authorities who are "on
trial," and not the Messiah at all.

1b. TEXT: Matthew 21:23-32

ESV: (The Authority of Jesus Challenged)

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

(The Parable of the Two Sons)

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

[3] 21:34 Greek bondservants; also verses 35, 36


23και ελθοντος αυτου εις το ιερον προσηλθον αυτω διδασκοντι οι αρχιερεις και οι πρεσβυτεροι του λαου λεγοντες, εν ποια εξουσια ταυτα ποιεις; και τις σοι εδωκεν την εξουσιαν ταυτην; 24αποκριθεις δε ο ιησους ειπεν αυτοις, ερωτησω υμας καγω λογον ενα, ον εαν ειπητε μοι καγω υμιν ερω εν ποια εξουσια ταυτα ποιω: 25το βαπτισμα το ιωαννου ποθεν ην; εξ ουρανου η εξ ανθρωπων; οι δε διελογιζοντο εν εαυτοις λεγοντες, εαν ειπωμεν, εξ ουρανου, ερει ημιν, δια τι ουν ουκ επιστευσατε αυτω; 26εαν δε ειπωμεν, εξ ανθρωπων, φοβουμεθα τον οχλον, παντες γαρ ως προφητην εχουσιν τον ιωαννην. 27και αποκριθεντες τω ιησου ειπαν, ουκ οιδαμεν. εφη αυτοις και αυτος, ουδε εγω λεγω υμιν εν ποια εξουσια ταυτα ποιω. 28τι δε υμιν δοκει; ανθρωπος ειχεν τεκνα δυο. και προσελθων τω πρωτω ειπεν, τεκνον, υπαγε σημερον εργαζου εν τω αμπελωνι. 29ο δε αποκριθεις ειπεν, ου θελω, υστερον δε μεταμεληθεις απηλθεν. 30προσελθων δε τω ετερω ειπεν ωσαυτως. ο δε αποκριθεις ειπεν, εγω, κυριε: και ουκ απηλθεν. 31τις εκ των δυο εποιησεν το θελημα του πατρος; λεγουσιν, ο πρωτος. λεγει αυτοις ο ιησους, αμην λεγω υμιν οτι οι τελωναι και αι πορναι προαγουσιν υμας εις την βασιλειαν του θεου. 32ηλθεν γαρ ιωαννης προς υμας εν οδω δικαιοσυνης, και ουκ επιστευσατε αυτω: οι δε τελωναι και αι πορναι επιστευσαν αυτω: υμεις δε ιδοντες ουδε μετεμεληθητε υστερον του πιστευσαι αυτω.

2. ANALYSIS - Matthew 21:23-32

Matthew 21:29 - Some manuscripts reverse the order of the sonsll, but the
most reliable order is for the first son to decline to go, thus providing
motive for asking the second son.

21:31 - legousin ("he says to them") - Matthew makes use of the
historical present, the mark of the skilled Matthean storyteller and of the
rhetorical, even aural nature of the narrative. The use of "tax collectors
and harlots" suggests a complete reversal of the religious-cultural social
order. Tax collectors are sometimes mentioned in parallel with Gentilesaa
(5:46f.) and sinners (9:10; 11:19).

Matthew nearly always uses "kingdom of heaven" or some other variation;
"Basileian tou Theou" appears only in the first two parables in this series
and in 12:28. It is practically futile to make significance out of it (contra
Gundry, p. 423). One can see a contextual preference for using "God" when
Satan is also mentioned with kingdom in 12:28. The same does not apply
here, however.

21:32 - The "Way of righteousness" may elicit all sorts of connotations
especially since Matthew uses righteousness several times and with other
clusters of expressions including "God's righteousness" (6:3) and "greater
righteousness" (5:20). Although Matthew follows Mark carefully in this
section of the Gospel, he does not copy Mark's motif "on the way." Brevard
Childs sees Matthew's usage in connection with Jesus' identification with
the "poor and sinful" living out God's call for justice and mercy (Childs, p.

Many scholars see Luke 7:29 behind this episode, and others find that
Matthew echoes the psalmist's sense of righteousness (Psalm 1:5f.)

The integration of this parable with the litmus test of John's baptism
is clear, however, and the reference to John recalls explicitly Jesus'
opponents' relationship to the prophetic messenger.

3. STRATEGY - Matthew 21:28-32

In order to preach upon this text, one must take into account what was
previously preached about Matthean reversals and especially Matthew
20:1-16, since there are some similarities. Taking Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

into account, there is a valuable word to be said about God's justice, and
the lack of human discernment. God's justice allows for the traitors

and the religious outcasts to be restored, and perhaps be first in the
kingdom. As far as the integrity of the Law is concerned, those who are
postured for the 'kingdom of righteousness' may be surprised.

Peter Shaffer popularized a legend about Wolfgang Mozart and
Antonio Salieri entitled "Amadeus." In the story, Salieri was the darling of
the Vienna cultural court and shows popular promise. He has become
extremely successful by most standards by mid-life. Early in the play, we
see him in prayer asking God to make him a worthy musician and for
enough fame only so that God would be glorified all the more. He enjoyed
his success.

Mozart, whose middle name means "beloved of God," was a child prodigy
from Salzburg and arrived in Vienna oozing talent and self-confidence,too.

He tended to leave strong first impressions with his pre-Victorian
manners and loose lips. He had very little will to resist telling the most
off-color joke, and one never needed to gues what was on his mind. His
reviews were mixed in the polited and slightly trendy company of the
Vienna Court and among the Emperor's friends.

Salieri heard him play, concspired to see some of his manuscriptsl, met
him, and soon enough knew that Mozart had been blessed by God in a very
special way. Salieri confessed angrily to God that he himself had been
given only enough talent to know who really had the gift of divine
inspiration. This drove him to bitterness, and finally to make an oath to
God that he would bring Mozart, whom he called "the Creature," down.

Mozart's style of life doesn't exactly teach us how to live, but he was
nevertheless God's chosen. He was, so to say, God's "voice" on earth. Mozart's
personality and Salieri's legendary plot led to a premature death of the

young "beloved of God." But we learn in the process that "all souls belong
to God" (Ezekiel 18:4) including Mozart, including Moses who could not
speak well, John the Baptizer who would also have received mixed reviews
in Vienna, and a believing tax collector or prostitute. God's sense of
shame differs from our own.

4. REFERENCES - Matthew 21:28-32

Childs, Brevard S. THE NEW TESTAMENT AS CANON. Phila.: Fortress Press, 1985.

THEOLOGICAL ART. Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 1982.

Johnson, Luke T. WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. Phila.: Fortress Press,

Minear, Paul S. MATTHEW: THE TEACHER'S GOSPEL. New York: Pilgrim
Press, 1982.


The appointed hymn of the day (LBW) for Pentecost 19 is LORD KEEP US
STEADFAST IN THY WORD (LBW 230), an excellent hymn that wears well.
The truly ambitious musician might try the plainsong version found in the old, red SERVICE BOOK AND HYMNAL (SBH 155a, Jesu Dulcedo Cordium).

O MASTER LET ME WALK WITH YOU (LBW 492, HB 659,660) is an appropriate hymn of commitment and true discipleship. LORD, WHOSE LOVE IN HUMBLE SERVICE (LBW 423, HB 610) is highly singable and serves as a prayer for the integrity theme that may arise in preaching this text.

Exegete: The Rev. John R. Spangler, Jr. is Executive Assistant to the President for Communication and Planning for the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA. He was formerly Communicator for the New England Synod in the ELCA. He serves on the ELCA’s Advisory Committee for the Lutheran Magazine. His wife, the Rev. Dr. Maria Erling, teaches the History of Christianity in North America and Global Mission at the Seminary. He and Maria have two daughters, Marta and Johanna.

Marta Erling Spangler, 22, of Gettysburg, PA, and formerly of Nashua, N.H., will serve in East Jerusalem and the West Bank with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), a companion relationship of the New England Synod. As one of six young adults headed to the Middle East, Erling Spangler will work with the Lutheran school in Beit Sahur, a village near Bethlehem, one of four schools operated by the ELCJHL.


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