I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Gospel Matthew 21:23-32
C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday, September 25th in Ordinary Time
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
23 Imagine coming into church on Sunday morning and someone, not a member of the church, was teaching a class. What if the teacher was someone who had a reputation as a rabble-rouser and a reputation as teaching heresies? Would we not ask exactly the same question of authority?
24-25a Jesus traps the Pharisees in a lose-lose question. Often it is the Pharisees that attempt to trap Jesus in a lose-lose question.
25b-27a How would we handle a revival that began outside the church or as a para-church movement? Is AA, Promise Keepers, … of God or of human invention?
27b Can we instead recognize that God may use any and every item of human invention for divine purposes. The church must be able to recognize God’s presence in all things.
28-30 Such typical responses to chores!
31c-32 Sinners, although last among people, are first in the kingdom of God when they recognize their sins, and seek to repent of such.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- One variant changes the order of the sons so that the first son agreed to go but did not, with the listeners affirming the one who refused, yet went. This variant may have to do with chiastic structure so it better parallels what follows with tax collectors and prostitutes who believe and repent.
- Another variant keeps the order the same, but the listeners reply that the second son does the will of the father (says he will go, but does not). Could this refer to the tax collectors and prostitutes who believe, but do not change their ways and to the Pharisees who do not believe but do justice?
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
- This occurs in Matthew on the morning after Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
- Jesus proceeds to tell two other parables after this one also against the Pharisees: The parable of the murderous tenants, and the rejected stone which became the cornerstone.
III. Question the text.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Gospel of Matthew.” Abingdon, 1995) notes that those who will judge Jesus, here pronounce judgment on themselves. After listing instances in this Gospel of Jesus exercising authority, he notes that the climax of the Gospel is Jesus announcement that God has given him all authority. He opines that “We don’t know,” can be a legitimate religious response, however, since the chief priests have pressed a yes/no question they must at least struggle with the ambiguity. He describes the parallel structure of the parable of the two sons and the following parable of the landowner and the vineyard. He reflects that both parables tell how God will take from Jewish/false leaders and will give to new leaders. He rejects interpretations that Israel was rejected. He also reminds interpreters to ask themselves “whether they have set up phony sovereignties in place of the one God, and thus might be addressed in the “you” from whom the kingdom is taken.”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
— Our actions describe better than our words the authority that we have given to Jesus.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
— What authority do we give Jesus? And how do we respond to that authority?
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
— Encourage careful introspection of how we acknowledge Christ throughout our whole lives.