Thought for the Week: 27th September 2020

Our thought this Sunday is by Steve Langton.

Keep it simple

Our gospel reading today (Matthew 21:23-32) describes a debate at the temple between Jesus and the chief priests.  It includes this little parable:

'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.”

‘“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

‘Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.

‘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. 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.

Jesus is accusing the religious authorities of the day of paying lip service to God, saying ‘yes’ to Him, but not actually living by God’s word.  By contrast, the prostitutes and tax collectors (the lowest of the low in Jewish society at that time) who truly repented at John the Baptist’s message will enter the kingdom of God ahead of them.

The gospels contain many passages like these, telling of the failings of the Jewish religious hierarchy, and I would suggest there is a reason why the divinely-inspired gospel writers included them; it is because it is all to easy for us, both as individuals and the organised church, to fall into the same errors.

Churches can all too easily elaborate the simple gospel message with their own rules and teachings.  I recently read a news story about a church minister in America who had decided to look at a video of his own baptism many years before.  He discovered that the person who baptised him had not used the correct words from his denomination’s baptism service.  He told his bishop about this and the baptism was declared invalid.  Because the baptism was void, so was the minister’s ordination, and that meant that all the baptisms and marriages that he had conducted were also not valid!  The simple message of baptism as a response to God’s call was lost in the detail of the exact wording of the baptism service, just as the pharisees tended to lose the true message in the bureaucracy of their rules.

And we as individuals can also fall into similar traps, becoming so focused on particular aspects of our moral code that we fail to actually do what our heavenly Father wants.  So let us this week try to cut through the baggage of our faith to focus on carrying out God’s work, remembering Jesus’s summary of the law.  Let’s try to love God with all our hearts, and try to love our neighbours as ourselves.