There’s quite a tussle of wills and words in the gospel passage for today. The religious leaders pummel Jesus with questions. “By what authority are you doing these acts?”, they ask. Just a while before this Jesus had cast the money-changers from the temple. I figure that was one of the moments when Jesus showed that he wasn’t just gentle meek and mild as often is depicted of him. And the religious people may also have been referring to his miracles of healing and of his casting out demons.
So, to their question – by what authority do you perform these acts? – Jesus replies, “Well, I’ll tell you what, you tell me if John the Baptist’s authority came from heaven or was it human and I’ll answer your question.”
Now, it may not be clear to us but the depth of Jesus’ question would have been abundantly clear for the religious leaders. He was holding a mirror up to their face.
You see the people had followed John. Even some of the religious leaders were following him. The people saw John as a prophet. So, if the religious leaders answered the question by saying his authority was human, they ran the risk of being criticized by the people.
No doubt, the leaders, who were asking the questions this day, were not among their colleagues who had repented of their sins and asked to be baptized by John. (John, by the way did not baptize them because he saw them as hypocrites who sought recognition but who were not following the teachings of God. And the people asking the questions today knew that. They professed one thing but did another.)
The mirror would therefore have an even brighter and clearer reflection for these religious leaders on this day. And, of course, Jesus was very well aware of what had played out with the religious leaders and John.
If they said that John’s authority was from heaven, they knew they were playing into Jesus’ hands about their question directed at him. They were in a conundrum and would not answer, to which Jesus replied that neither would he answer their question. He had turned the snare they has set for him back onto them.
Jesus then tells them a short parable about two sons. One says to his father that he will go out into the fields to work but does not. And the other refuses to go but changes his mind and does go out into the fields to do his father’s work. Clearly, that son was the one who did his father’s will and the religious leaders could see that. The implication being reflected in the mirror was that they too could convert their ways and follow the teachings of the kingdom. But even if that were their intention, it would be their actions that told the real story.
As Jesus puts it to them very bluntly, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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 after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
As I said, Jesus held a mirror for them up to their faces so that they could see in the reflections. How could any of them go away that day and not think seriously about how Jesus had responded to their questioning.
There’s a mirror for us too in the story. How do our intentions of what we profess convert into action? Probably not a bad question to be asking at any time to ensure that we are on track in following the teachings of Jesus and in putting those teachings into action. The question is especially relevant in these times of COVID.
Right now, for many months now, and for some time into the future, the fog of COVID makes it harder for us to see the reflection. How do we make sure that we are still putting Jesus’ teachings into action in our caring for the poor and for those in need? What sacrifices do we need to ponder? How do we stay on track? How do we discern our Mission?
The world is not the same as it was a few months ago. And, I don’t think we are going back there any time in the future to how things once were.
This is not about adaptation. It is about innovation.
This is about the quest for an entirely new vision. We are being beckoned into a quest—a new vision for the Church and a new vision for us in our parish. How do we follow the teachings of Jesus and how do we put our intentions into action in an entirely new world? It goes beyond adapting. It is about innovating with an entirely new vision, previously unknown and unseen. Challenging, to say the least.
It is the greatest challenge for aeons in the Church. As a parish of those who follow Jesus in the wider Church, it is also a major challenge. It is a call to be on a quest. The quest is to innovate, to be able to see things completely in a totally new context and to act accordingly.
It will take time: prayer, study, reflection, pondering – trust, risk, hope, and love.
I think it’s an exciting journey we don’t want to miss. We would miss it at our own peril.
A father asks his children to go out into the fields to do his work. One says he will but doesn’t. The other says he won’t but does.
What is it that you see in the mirror that Jesus is holding up for us?