THE KING CONFRONTS THE RELIGIOUS
EVER since the television set invaded the living room - and nearly every other room as well - we have become a society of spectators. It's so much easier that way. Sate your curiosity, natural or otherwise, hear the viewpoints, regard all the problems from a safe distance. We never have to get involved. Injustice and oppression force their way in, calamity and catastrophe leave negative images, but one little button on the remote and they all go away, so we mustn't judge the religious leaders in the old Jerusalem very harshly. They wanted to have that luxury. The Messiah was standing in the their midst, saying things that were making them very uncomfortable. They were looking for a remote that would turn Him off, take them into a dream where they would not have to confront His claims. From the safety of the Temple they planned to evaluate Jesus, but He would have none of that. He was fulfilling prophecies where they had to notice Him. The same Messiah addressed His claims to us. We are just as involved as the religious leaders. Staying away from church does not make Jesus go away.
The leaders asked Jesus to state how He claimed such authority. He turned the question onto them by asking about John the Baptist. This was not happening in a corner. Jesus was talking right out in front of everybody, not just the leaders, but the people as well. That was a first step. If the elders answered Him properly, Jesus could keep digging in that spot, asking about all the prophets who were persecuted in Jerusalem, but they would not give Him a straight answer, so Jesus refused to play their games. Instead He told the parable about the tenant farmers who killed the landlord's servants, then even killed his son. They knew right away what Jesus meant, but there was no way they could arrest Him in front of everybody. They knew what He meant, too.
At first glance we might wonder why the question of authority even came up. Remember, by the time this took place, Jesus was famous. The story we heard in today's Gospel took place about two years earlier in Capernaum. Already then He had friction with the scribes. He told the sick man that his sins were forgiven, and the religious started grumbling about it. They thought He was blaspheming. The question would not go away. For two years it just grew bigger and bigger, so they called Jesus to account for going beyond what Moses taught. We must not feel superior to those people. After all, we know about the resurrection, while they lived before it happened. Yes, Moses and the Prophets did indeed predict the things Jesus was doing. They predicted a New Covenant, based on the forgiveness of sins. That was something Jesus was doing every day, but dying and rising again were still in the future. For the moment He looked like an ordinary man. The religious leaders, whether priests, elders, or scribes, had certain notions about what was appropriate. Forgiving sinners - even an adulteress, eating with tax collectors, healing on the Sabbath, even telling stories where Samaritans were the good guys - no Messiah would not do anything like that.
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus' authority at work. He commanded the wind and the sea; He had the demons begging; when He chased out the money-changers, who were trying to make Israelite worship more user-friendly, they stayed out. Shortly before Palm Sunday, everybody heard about Lazarus. That was just over the hill from the Temple. News about dead people being raised tends to get around. He had authority, but how? There is only one right answer. It was the authority of the cross, the sacrifice by which the Lamb emancipated the slaves, the authority of His blood. He was committing Himself to that when He forgave the paralytic in Capernaum, when He healed the sick and the lame, when He cast out the representatives of hell. What He said to Peter about the keys of the kingdom was nothing less than authority to apply His blood to individual sinners. He would shed it, so He could give Peter authority to use it. The authority of the Church is our Lord's gift. It is the true treasure of the Church, the blessed treasure of the kingdom of God. Everyone has sinned; everyone needs that grace.
Perhaps we would rather not be involved, but that is not our call. We may want to think about God the way we think about groceries, try this one and that one, compare costs. We wish we could finger the remote and surf through all the faiths. Like the religious leaders in the New Testament, we want to shop for a Messiah, to evaluate the Lord. We want to make a deal - Jesus can have me on Sunday, the rest of the week is mine! He doesn't think so. In the world to come, do you want to just visit heaven on Sunday? Jesus looks you in the eye and asks, Do you believe in God who raises the dead? Really, so that what you say and what you do are on the same page? He asked those men whether John's Baptism came from heaven. So what about your baptism? Did men make all this up? If so, why did you come here? To be religious? The Word did not become flesh to make you religious, but if you want your sins forgiven, if you want to be rescued from death and the devil, then Jesus is the right Person. You cannot have it both ways. This forgiveness is yours, but then you are part of Christ's kingdom. Without Him, you can do nothing, but as you stand beside the true Messiah of Israel, you can be part of the greatest enterprise of all time. When I say a "part," that excludes being a spectator. You are a participant. When Jesus returns there will be no spectators, only the conquerors and the conquered.
Here in God's house, our liturgy will not let us be mere spectators. As we come to receive the body and blood of our Lord, we say with Him Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. The keys of the kingdom are not for spectators. That's how the Messiah rules in our midst. His kingdom is founded on forgiveness. We must never think in our hearts, "forgive us as we watch others forgive..." We can't hold that remote. We are involved. God is our Father. Jesus is our Savior. His Church is our church.
We could never choose this for ourselves. Jesus became involved with us at a time when we had no choice. He had every right to destroy us from the safe distance of heaven, but He plunged Himself down into our world, paid the price of our forgiveness, and died our death which would not hold Him, because He was not a sinner. Soon we will have our share of the Sacrificial Victim, becoming partners with His mercy, getting involved to the point where we can use our authority to forgive sins, our keys of the kingdom. Jesus does not call us to sit on the sidelines. He defeated our enemies, and paid our ransom. With Him there is no limit to what we can do. AMEN
~ Rev. Lloyd Gross