No finger pointing please

Holy Child and St. Martin’s

Matthew 21:23-32

 The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes

September 25, 2011


What do this sign mean? (Pointing)

It means pointing towards a direction, pointing towards something else. It may point at something revealing or it can mean to accuse someone for doing something in particular. But if you examine it closely, you will find that two fingers are pointing at that direction and three are pointing at yourself. Let me see how you point at something? Try pointing your fingers at me. Try to accuse me with your fingers. Examine your fingers, aren’t three pointing at you?

 A group of students we’re having a campfire. At dinner, the leader led them in prayer, so everyone closed their eyes in deep thanksgiving. When everyone opened their eyes, someone screamed, “Who got my food!” Everyone started to point fingers at each other. Obviously, there were eyes whose concentration is the food, not the prayer.

Similarly, I remember back in seminary during breakfast time. Served in each plate are two boiled eggs, a dried fish and rice. After prayer, one of the eggs is gone and everyone would accuse their neighbor. Since then during breakfast prayer, one eye is open, the other closed or hands over the food.

 Our gospel today is a continuation of last Sunday’s further questionings of the leaders of the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees finger pointing on Jesus’ authority to teach about the kingdom of God. They asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? Jesus wisely answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.” “The baptism of John, whose authority was it, from Heaven or from earth? Aha! Stalemate! Trapped in their own dishonesty and insincerity. The Pharisees grasped for an answer. They asked themselves, “If we say, from heaven, he will say to us, why then did you not believe John?” But if we say, “From men, we are afraid of the multitude for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Such a clever Jesus, he set the Pharisees in a lose/lose situation. He knows they feared the people and he expects them to remain non-committal when they said, “We do not know.”

 But here’s another trapping question asked by Jesus, “what do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, son, go and work in the vineyard today, and he answered, “No dad! I won’t go. I’ve got other plans. I can’t make it. No way. It’s not my turn. Get my brother to do it. You are always after me. It’s not fair. Forget it!” but afterwards he repented and said, “Ok dad, I will go.”  And he went to the second and said the same;
and he answered, “I go sir” but did not go saying, “Huh! Why should I? I’d
rather play deaf” Which of the two did the will of the father? They answered, “The first!”

 Jesus intended audience (The Pharisees) was represented in the parable by the son who said, “Yes” to his father, but did nothing. They paid lip service to obedience, but their inaction rendered them ineffective and empty. They talked the talk but refused to walk the walk. Words without action mean absolutely nothing.  Anyone can talk holiness; it is quite another thing to live it authentically. The son who refused to go out in the field, but later relented and obeyed his father represents the sinners whose lives were once the antithesis of righteousness. After heeding the message of John the Baptist, they changed their minds and turned their lives toward God. These
reformed sinners were thus offered an honored place in the reign of God.
Obedience was important, but honor was more important. This is Jesus’ message. Both sons were sinners, but at least the son who initially refused to obey his father, and then changed his mind by doing it, displayed substantive transformation by his actions. He remembered the mercies and the love of his father and chose to do the right thing. He did not say one thing and do entirely different. Matthew’s primarily accusation against the Pharisees was that they said the right things but failed to do them. Jesus trapped them into pointing the accusing fingers at them.  

Those sinners and outcasts who are scorned by everyone are the very ones who do the will of God. They will also be the ones who are first to enter God’s reign. All who make a showy display of piety, yet changed nothing and do nothing, are really the non-repentant sinners.

In pointing the one finger at the sinners, the Pharisees pointed four at themselves. They will be usurped in the kingdom by none other than the despised harlots and tax collectors they castigated.

Another way how people point at something is by using their lips. It’s the Filipino way.  They said you are a Filipino if you point at something with your lips. Uhmm.. “Where?”…Uhmm.. And if it is farther….you will point with your lips this way…hmmmmmmmm. Try to point with your lips sideways. Let me see..

We have a lot of things to learn from each other rather than accusing each
other by finger pointing who support what. We should reflect on obedience and honor. Maybe the campers and seminarians should really focus in their prayer and thanksgiving, rather than keeping themselves busy taking someone else’s food.

 Fellow followers in Christ, there are lots of things to remember in the road to discipleship, obedience to the will of the father in one of them, honor is another. Honor is offered to Him who gives authority over all things there is. Let us not be trapped with dishonesty and insincerity, lest we end up answering, “We do not know” “not me” or the sign “hmmmmmm” Amen.

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