A number of questions hang in the air with these texts. What is authority? How do we judge it? Do words or actions matter more? What is the “mind of Christ”? How could we ever hope to have such a mind ourselves?
Lest the preacher get trapped by the impossibility of answering these questions adequately, let us all concentrate on the promise of God’s active presence among us. In that promise lies the final answer to all the questions that have no solution.
The leaders’ question [to Jesus] about authority is not unreasonable. . . However, the real question. . . is not about [Jesus’] credentials but about the inability of the leaders to trust God’s Word when it appears. They rejected John’s call to repentance. They now reject Jesus. Jesus then tells this parable, which is unique to Matthew.
The heart of the matter is whether talk or actions are what really matter. Certainly, Jesus aligns the leaders who confront him with the son who agreed and then did not act. The tax collectors, sinners, and other riffraff. . . are aligned with the son who said no, but then acted anyway. As the leaders of the Temple answer with the obvious answer, they indict themselves and—here is the key to the question of authority—show themselves to be without authority to ask the question of Jesus in the first place.
. . . The good news here, and in all the passages, is that God is indeed acting in our midst to call us to new life. . . –– Timothy V. Olson
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The exiles have fallen into a hopeless acceptance of exile as punishment for Israel’s past sins. The prophet will have none of it. In the form of a legal debate, Ezekiel challenges any feelings of unfairness the people may have toward God. Punishment is a consequence of rebellion.
Ezekiel also will not let them wallow in hopelessness. Despite the length of time spent on punishment in the chapter, it all drives to the redemptive word at the end. Repentance is possible because God does not desire punishment or death. God is a god of life and calls the people to turn and live. –– Timothy V. Olson
While this passage is a highly Christological reading with the cross firmly planted in the middle as we read it every year in Lent, the current liturgical setting allows us to see the communal concerns perhaps a little more fully. The overall concern of the passage is unity and faithfulness.
Verses 1–4 use an “if, then” structure to lift up some marks of living a life in Christ that a community of disciples should bear. Consolation, compassion, encouragement, unity, humility and self-sacrifice are to be manifest if Christ is present in Spirit, and love is what guides the community.
Paul then uses the Christological hymn in 5–11 to show the way that this is possible. What is tricky here is how to translate verse 5. Some translations make this a call to conformity or imitation. Others make it out to be an openness to God’s work at empowering us to follow. The first puts the burden upon the faithful, the latter on the work of the Spirit. Either approach is a legitimate rendering of the Greek. However, if the argument is to square with verse 13, “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you...” and 1:6, where Paul assures that God will complete the work begun in the Philippian community, one might choose the latter reading. This does not create a passive submission, however; these are still people on the journey of faith, capable of resistance and rejection. –– Timothy V. Olson
Timothy V. Olson is the Lead Pastor for Mission and Vision at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Ankeny, Iowa.
Homily Service 38, no. 10 (2005): 47-56.