Today’s Scripture Readings:
The readings today are very reassuring for all of us who take a while to catch on. I would suggest even those of us who were downright belligerent and destructive should rejoice in what is revealed about God’s attitude today. Jesus tells the story very clearly in Matthew. Two sons are asked to work in the vineyard. One says no but then actually does it. The other says yes, to satisfy his father, but doesn’t actually do the work. Even Jesus’ opponents the chief priests and the elders get this right. The one who actually does the work is the obedient son.
Jesus is using the obvious answer to indict the people in power. He’s demonstrating that the way to God is not through position, education or social status but rather by simply responding to God’s offer of forgiveness and love. In this case, the confrontation with John the Baptist is the offered opportunity for these officials. As I see it, the problem was, these people would have had to admit they had taken the wrong path or misjudged John at first. Jesus points out that even in the face of conversions from the destitute and outcasts of society these “smart” people wouldn’t reconsider their opinion of John based on what they saw happening and change their minds.
The key is they wouldn’t change their minds even in the face of good things. The good news for us is, there is room to change our minds, to take a different path. We don’t have to be first “to get” what’s going on in our lives or understand right away the things that have gone wrong. Our lives can develop, mature, take shape and then at some point we can make a change, we can choose what’s really best for us. Maybe that’s what the waiting of Advent is really meant to tell us. It’s OK to be uncertain for now, something better is coming. We need to pay close attention to what is going on in our lives. Then when that marvelous new thing happens, it gives us a chance to choose. That is something we can do, choose.
What is particularly wonderful about this is that God seems to absolutely expect that people and communities will have done the wrong thing. Then against what might be considered normal expectations, God turns around to help make the change happen and promptly forgets everything that’s gone before. That’s what I’m hearing in Zephaniah. Consider this:
“I will change and purify the lips of the peoples … On that day
You need not be ashamed of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me”
This is a new start. A time when that remnant of humility within us can have a chance to come forward so we can live as one who “speaks no lies” and enjoy the pleasure of having “none to disturb them.”
I don’t think this should actually surprise us given what the Psalms say repeatedly about God saving his people. In this instance the message is strong and to the point:
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
The LORD redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.
Please notice that what the voice of God points to in Zephaniah, is exactly the same problem for which Jesus is criticizing the chief priests and elders. Jerusalem is not willing to see what’s going on and refuses to change her mind as a result. Here is how Zephaniah talks about Jerusalem’s offense:
She hears no voice,
accepts no correction;
In the LORD she has not trusted,
to her God she has not drawn near.
The right course of action is to draw near to God by asking for help, not worrying about what’s gone before, taking the first step, and choosing for ourselves. After all Christmas is coming.