Blessed Are Those Who Find Grace
Written by Eric Weiner
One summer while I was in college, I interned at a church doing youth ministry. I was in charge of programming all youth events for the boys that summer, and as someone who had previously been a member of this group, I had a good idea what would attract a crowd. But even though I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, I still wanted nuance and creativity. A couple of neon signs laying around my parent’s basement was all I needed - a photo scavenger hunt!
The idea was simple: Each team was given a neon sign to pose with at different locations around town. A lit-up sign meant bonus points; most points wins. Fast-forward about an hour in, and my team of misfit boys is huddled around the first open outlet we can find at the front of Wal-Mart when a lady, who I suppose was a store manager, asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”
It was a sincere question. One that I didn’t feel my honest answer could truly justify. I bet if I were the son of Wal-Mart’s CEO I’d have a different story to tell. But I’m not. So we got the boot.
WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS?
The point of this knuckleheaded story isn’t that youth ministries sometimes do silly things, though that’s probably true. The point is that people in positions of authority notice when someone is crossing a line.
And that seems to be what’s going on in Matthew 21:23-32. Go read it! In the final week of his earthly ministry, Jesus went into the Temple to teach. Now, our familiarity with Jesus and this story doesn’t let us think that strange. But imagine someone unknown to our community walking into Waypoint one Sunday and getting up to preach. It’d be an interesting social experiment. I can picture someone pointing and mouthing to Pastor Lawrence right now, “Who is that?!”
Of course Jesus isn’t just anybody. But you can understand why this situation might garner the attention of the Temple priests. This kind of circumstance would only be appropriate for the Lord’s Anointed. So, they question Jesus’ authority, but what they’re really asking is, “Are you the Messiah?”
DON’T OVERLOOK JOHN
Jesus’ response leaves the religious leaders tongue-tied, but I don’t think his intent was to trap them. I think he wanted them to see that they were asking a question they should have already known. In this case, the answer to Jesus’ question was the answer to their question. But what do they say? If they were wrong about John, then they missed what God was doing. And John was beloved by the people! Could they really deny his prophetic voice without risking a riot? So they play it safe -- “We don’t know why John was baptizing.” How diplomatic of them!
But the truth matters. Jesus is trying to show them again that John was the voice crying out in the wilderness (Is. 40:3). And it was at Jesus’ baptism that “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, who I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:17). In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you had recognized these things, you’d be welcoming me instead of confronting me.”
So Jesus says, “Okay. If you really don’t know, then let me put it this way. Consider this story about these two sons.”
Now, you could point to cultural differences when interpreting this story, but I think context makes it clear what Jesus is trying to communicate. Even the Pharisees are sure about this one (Matt. 21:31). It’s the first son, though he looks like a rebel, who obeys. The second son checks all the boxes, but he doesn’t follow through!
Go read Matthew 21:31-32 again. Jesus responds, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
These so-called ‘rebels’ see their need and are turning to the only One who can save. It’s the well-polished and morally upright who can’t see their needs. So Jesus offers a warning to them: “You’re standing on the outside, but it’s not too late to enter!”
Now, best case scenario, that would sting! These people believe they’re fully in step with the things of God, yet they are hardened to the things of God. That is troubling and heartbreaking! But what I’ve come to learn about Jesus is that people hardened to the things of God are only able to overcome their stubbornness by receiving more grace. And in the heart of Jesus, grace is never in short supply!
So as we approach Holy Week, the questions I leave you with are these: How are you learning to trust in God above yourself? What are you doing this week only because you’ve truly encountered the God who saves and sustains? Will you remember with me:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3)?