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Every Knee Shall Bow

Matthew 21:23-32

The Rev. Jon Roberts

1 October

2017

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

“Nothing Strengthens authority so much as silence.”[1]

A mother was making pancakes for her two sons one morning. Ryan, age five and Kevin, age three, were fighting over who would get the first one. The mother seized the opportunity to teach a moral lesson and asked them, “What if you were Jesus? What would you say?” Not giving them a time to really think about it, she answered her question with a question, “Wouldn’t he say give to my brother first?” After a bit of silence, Ryan looks at his brother and says, “You be Jesus.”

Who has been given the authority and who wants it? There are many examples in our society of those given authority. We have police officers, politicians, lawyers, doctors, soldiers, priests, and teachers, to name a few. Are they in authority because of their credentials or because there is something that lies within them; perhaps how they conduct their jobs? Today, for many of them, their authority is under question.
In the office of the Rector, there are three framed certificates on the wall. One authorizes the ordination to the diaconate; the other to the priesthood and the last is a letter from the Bishop. Being a deacon of the church, you are authorized for liturgical practices, healing the sick and extending the Blessed Sacrament to those away from Church. The priest carries out many of the same, authorized to administer both Word and Sacrament and be the one who speaks on behalf of the church. The bishop has been authorized to examine candidates for holy orders and secure leaders for each church. They hold the “keys.” Each is strengthened, not by mere credentials but by the laying on of hands whereas the succession of God’s truth is revealed and proclaimed. It is important to remember that God did not authorize each member of the three-fold office to defend the church, but rather to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The question of who is authorized must therefore be answered by those who proclaim the name of Jesus with sincerity and truth.

In the hymn, “In the name of Jesus Christ, every knee show bow,” it is those whose tongue confess that He is Lord, who speak the truth. If only our police, politicians, lawyers, doctors, judges, presidents, soldiers, teachers and professors, principals and deans could do the same, there may be less questioning and fewer problems…perhaps.

The same question did arise in the days of Jesus. A specific religious authority known as the Sanhedrin challenged this young rabbi by asking him, “Who gave you the authority?”[2] Members of both the Pharisaic and Sadducee parties asked Jesus. He could have easily said, “I am the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world. Next question,” but that would have been the end of it. He would have been sentenced for blasphemy. Instead, Jesus appealed to the school of reason to answer this question with another question. He told them, “I will ask your question if you answer mine. Some say John the Baptist was from heaven while others say he was from earth. Where did he come from?”

It was a question that made them go into a huddle and murmur. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.” And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” By not giving them the answer they had hoped he would say, it was like a deafening silence. It was still a looming question as they were so angry and fearful that such a young rabbi could become so popular with such a radical platform of teaching on forgiveness and mercy. With all of their credentials, they could not bend the knee or confess with the tongue that Jesus was Lord. This is the message that Paul proclaims to the church in Caesarea Phillipi.[3]

Finally, we have the parable, the core of what we know Jesus said. The actual questioning of Jesus by the Sanhedrin was most likely post-resurrection material recalled by the evangelist, but the parable we know was authentic and Jesus spoke with authority. A man had two sons, most likely squabbling over who would receive the privilege and blessing of inheritance. But the father continued to ask them to do more; to be the better person. “Will you go out and work in the vineyard today?” Both has worked in the vineyard all their life. They were committed. They earned everything they made, but much like those two little boys fighting over the pancakes, and who would be granted authority. “You be Jesus” was like the first son who said, “I will not.’ But later changed his mind and did so.” He waited so that someone else would take on the duty. It is the one who says, “I will go,” but then does not, that reminds us of the Sanhedrin. They held their credentials of upholding formalism and protecting the temple grounds, but when it came to doing actual ministry, they relinquished and were apathetic.

Sometimes it is the rebellious spirit that struggles for so long, only to melt to God’s patient and consistent call to serve. Who else carries this authority? You do! Jesus has given authority to those who can love those of opposition. He gives the credentials held dear and certified on the hearts and minds of the believer. He gives you the words to say in your heart but you may never have to articulate; just be willing to bend the knee. Often in silence, does God’s message of love speak most effectively. Appeal to reason, dearly beloved and know the difference to which things are heavenly and which things are earthy. There is an angry and fearful world out there, that desperately seeks the truth. Underscoring and trumping all credentials is God’s truth.
Nothing strengthens authority, so much as silence, from those who bend the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

[1] Leonardo de Vinci
[2] Matthew 21:23-32
[3] Philippians 2:1-13

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