Reflections from The Hill – The Big Ouch
“Aw, yeah? You and whose army?”
Jack Turner (not his real name) drew himself up to his full height. If his eyes were star pickets, I’d have been a barbed wire fence within seconds.
As it was, I had no army of any sort, just a couple of weedy, Grade 3, mates. We were no match for the knuckles of the Turner boys, so we turned away, defeated.
When I read about the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees in this week’s Gospel, my mind goes to that day in the schoolyard of South Carlton Public and the eerily terrifying sounds of lines being drawn in the sand.
Instead of making a statement like “Hey, get out of this here, we don’t want your type here”, the Pharisees chose to ask a question: “Who told you that you could do this?”
Jesus must have known that the way to really judge a person was by their questions, not by their answers because he countered this question with another one about John the Baptist and showed them up in the process.
Answer one way and the Pharisees get shown up as just another bunch of ignorant religionists; answer the other and they stand to lose so much popularity that even Julia Gillard would look good, poor thing.
(As an aside, the reader might be well instructed to know that the strategy of replying to a question with another question is one that my Dearly Beloved employs with great panache and effect, but I digress.)
All sorts of people asked Jesus all sorts of questions and most of them were self-serving: they wanted to trap him, to impress him, or to get something from him.
To every pointed question, though, Jesus offered an equally pointed answer that revealed some truth about the Kingdom, the King, and/or the Kingdom's subjects.
This time, though, he gets right to their hearts by asking them a question in return. Stymied for an answer, his accusers refuse on the grounds that, no matter what they said, an answer would incriminate them, seriously, badly.
This sets up Jesus to tell a story about integrity. None of us can get past this yarn without having a twinge of conscience. In my case, it’s more like having a grand-mal fit than a twinge.
Jesus tells the awkward story of the two brothers who were asked to help out: one said “No” but then did; the other said “Yes” but didn’t. The point of integrity, though, is in what they did, not what they said.
For every one of us who hears this story, the comparison forces us to ask the question, Which one am I? Am I the one who presents as obedient but isn’t, or am I the one who for, all intents and purposes, can’t be trusted but, in the end, does what is needed? Which am I? Which are you?
It’s a tough call. We may not be the chief priests and elders of Jesus' day, asking the Messiah accusing questions. Or, perhaps we are. Even so, the parable speaks volumes to us.
When I hear or read this part of Matthew, I am reminded of that convoluted section in Romans 7 when Paul is rabbiting on about not doing the good that he wants to do but actually doing the thing that he really doesn’t want to do. Whether Paul or Matthew, the point they’re making is a challenge.
After all the saying and praying and singing, this text puts the focus on what we exactly do after we leave church on Sunday. Ouch.
Jesus has no need to defend his authority to those without integrity, for they (we) have lost face, lost trust, lost moral standing with the people. Ouch.
‘Putting our money where our mouth is’ is still a challenge. Do our words match our convictions, and does what we do match our words? Ouch.