As the presidential election approaches, we see candidates calculate how they answer questions. “What is your position on BLM?” The question is simple and yet the process of answering it is complex. Opinion polls have given a demographic picture of how certain answers will affect voting. So, the candidates are careful, calculated, in how they respond.
The phenomenon does not just play-out in politics. It happens in our daily lives as well. In a toxic on-line environment, Facebook profiles are carefully curated. In a tense social situation, conversation is carefully monitored. “If I say this, then they will think this.” We live in a land of calculated responses which can be dangerous to our faith. We become so concerned we might offend when we confess what we believe that having a true conversation about faith is rare.
Which is why I love the Gospel lesson for today. Jesus invites us to practice a faith that is bold. He invites us to trust in Him, without calculations.
You see, there is a difference between believing something because it brings about a particular result in your life and believing something regardless of the results it will bring. Jesus invites us to believe in Him, regardless of the results that will follow.
Jesus invites us to believe in Him, regardless of the results that will follow.
In our text, Jesus is in the Temple, being questioned by the religious authorities. As they seek to entrap Him with calculated questions, He entraps them in their practice of a calculated faith. Jesus asks them a simple question. “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From Heaven or from man?” Rather than answer, they need to calculate before they respond. Notice how they do not take time to discuss what they believe. That is, they do discuss whether John was sent from God or not. Instead, they discuss the merits of what happens if they say they believe one thing or another. Faith, for them, is a calculated social posture. What they truly believe does not matter. What matters is what happens when they appear to believe one thing or another.
As social disapproval of Christianity grows in our nation, we are tempted to live a calculated faith. We feel the need to be careful when we share what we believe. Jesus, however, shows us where those who have a calculated faith end up: Trapped. They are unable to confess because of the complicated social situation and, therefore, unable to follow the Savior who comes to lead them into His kingdom of grace.
To such people, Jesus speaks a parable, a parable about words and deeds. The one who calculates and says the right thing (“I will go and work”) is judged. Why? Because his relationship with his father is a matter of calculation. It is just about saying the right words in the right moment. For Jesus, faith is more than having the correct calculated response. Jesus does not want our calculated responses as if they were faith. He does not want us to say we believe when we do not, to say we care for the poor when we do not, to say we honor marriage when we do not, to say we speak truthfully when we do not. Jesus has come to free us from the game of calculated responses. Instead, He invites us to follow Him. To live with Him in a freely given life of faithful response.
Jesus has come to free us from the game of calculated responses. Instead, He invites us to follow Him. To live with Him in a freely given life of faithful response.
What does that look like? Jesus offers us a glimpse. He points to the tax collectors and prostitutes who are following Him. These are people that no one would have expected to be children of God. Their lives were an open testimony against the will of their heavenly father. But, by the power of the Spirit, something happened. They heard a call to repent and they did. They heard a call to follow and they did. Jesus brings a word into this world that awakens people to life. It frees us from the games of calculated confessions and opens-up for us a life of uninhibited response.
In Jesus, God has entered our sin and by His death brought about forgiveness and by His resurrection given us a new life. This new life is transparent about who we are in the Kingdom of God. We are not here by our own merit. We are here by grace and grace alone. Our lives then become an open witness to the grace of God and the work of Christ.
Tax collectors and prostitutes are suddenly role models in the Kingdom. Those whom no one would associate with are suddenly leading the way into the Kingdom of God. Why? Because they have experienced the working of God, the call to repentance, and they have responded in faith. It is not calculated faith, but simply faith. Faith that is not ashamed to be honest about one’s life and to believe the good news of God that one is forgiven, not for what one has said or done but for what has been done and said for you.
Christ has died and risen for you. He forgives you your sin and claims you as His own. This is the source of your life. Boldly make this confession, regardless of what follows.
We do not follow Jesus based on a calculation of the benefits. Rather, we follow because He is Jesus. He forgives us our sin. He gives us a new life, a free life, a transparent life, a bold life, an uncalculated authentic life in Him.
So, go and speak and live as children of God. Not calculating what will happen to you in this world if you say you believe but believing regardless of what happens to you because by believing you have life in His name.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 21:23-27 (28-32).
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 21:23-27 (28-32).
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 21:23-27 (28-32).