Anticipating something can create anxiety for most of us. This anxiety increases if we do not know the timing of whatever we are anticipating. You might recall as a young child on a road trip the way you nagged your parents with the question, “Are we there yet?” Maybe you had a child who consistently would ask that question, or ask “when?” We think that by knowing the timing, we can manage our anxiety better. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.
We witness the annely of the disciples in today’s passage. Jesus tells them that the large, revered temple will be reduced to rubble and they want to know when. Jesus warns them that some people will come and try to convince them that the end is near based upon events which they see around them. He tells them not to be fooled because those events are just a part of the status of the world. Jesus says the wickedness in the world will increase but they are to stand strong in love. When others no longer live in and by love, Jesus’s followers are to do the opposite as a testimony of the kingdom in the world.
Since Jesus spoke these words, history has recorded individuals trying to convince people that the end of the world is close at hand. Even today we experience leaders, speakers, preachers, and public figures trying to equate natural or human-created events as signs of the end times. Whether it is true or not, our focus should not be on timing but instead our focus should be on remaining solid in love. Jesus clearly tells us that whatever is occurring around us, whatever wickedness is flooding the world, we are to not acquire a cold heart. The love which we daily receive from the Lord must create our foundation. This love surrounding us is also what we are to be sharing with others.
Leave the timing of the world’s demise to God. Do not let the world’s wickedness steal the love from you. Make love an alternative to the events of the world. By doing so, you will be testifying to the kingdom for others to see, a kingdom which is defined by love.
A saying which one of my instructors stated frequently to my class was, “say what you mean and do what you say.” He was impressing upon us the importance of carrying through on what we say we are going to do. In his view, this was a component of personal integrity. Our integrity is the basis upon which trust can be built.
Jesus wished to impress the importance of following through on expectations when he shared the story of the two sons. In the story one son refuses to do what the father asks but then ends up fulfilling the request. The second son does exactly the opposite. The people before Jesus as he tells the story indicate the first son did what the father wanted. This gives Jesus the opportunity to point out that the Jewish leaders who had questioned his authority are like the second son while those condemned by these leaders were like the first son. They demonstrated integrity and pleased the Father because they repented from their initial error and believed.
This story can be disturbing for any of us who follow the pattern of the second son. How often do we sit in the midst of worship or during our devotion time and commit to the Lord that we are going to follow the Lord’s direction? Maybe we commit to change a behavior or reach out to another in some fashion. Do we carry through with what we say we will do or do we create an excuse not to do so? Are we doing as the Father wants? We must complete what the Lord asks whether we initially accept or reject it. We must do what we say we will do.
Many of us grew up with parents and grandparents who were committed to fairness in gift giving. Whether it was Christmas, birthdays, graduations, or any other opportunity to give a gift, these important people in our lives would strive to make sure that each child or grandchild received equally. As the receiver of the gifts, anytime we failed to see equity in the giving, we may have had a tendency to exclaim that it was unfair.
The fairness of giving and receiving is addressed in the story which Jesus tells in our passage for today. Workers hired early in the day protest the fairness of receiving the same daily wage as those who were hired in the final hours of the work day. The vineyard owner is quick to point out that all the workers received exactly the wage for which they agreed to work. The owner continues by lifting up that it was his money being paid so he had the right to determine the amount as long as it was not lower than the agreed upon amount. Jesus was addressing some of the issues regarding the Jews versus the Gentiles in coming to believe.
This battle of fairness can appear among believers today. People begin believing in the Lord at various points in their lives. There are some who develop a belief early in their lives, maybe because they have been raised in the fellowship of the Church. Others start developing their faith as young adults or even when they reach middle age. Still others may not come to believe until they are facing death. No matter when in life our belief begins, we all receive the fullness of our Lord’s promises fulfilled. In fact we receive this before we even begin to understand our belief. The grace given to all is the Lord’s to give. Instead of crying foul when a new believer accepts the gift of grace and promises fulfilled, we should celebrate.
This week has made many of us feel as if we have been battered by a storm. The senseless killing of children in Texas which came so closely after the horrific murders of people in Buffalo, make us filled with questions, sadness, and anxiety. These events are a continuing trend in our nation. Add to this the exhaustion brought upon us by the pandemic and months of war in Ukraine. All of these situations combine to make us feel like we are in the midst of a never ending storm. How can we continue to stand?
Jesus has an answer to that question. He tells the crowd listening to him that they are to be like the wise person who built a house on rock. The rock on which we are to build our house is Jesus Christ and his teachings. Jesus taught that love is the answer to combat evil and sin. If we build our lives on the love found in Jesus’s words, we will overcome the sin within us and in the world around us.
Go to the teachings of Jesus and listen. Read the two chapters preceding this one in Matthew’s gospel. Then strive everyday to build your life upon Jesus’s words found in these three chapters.
One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.
The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.
The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.
The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.
Many in the world make judgments in regard to others by observing what company the individual might keep. Who the person spends time with and interacts with is viewed as determining the type of person the individual might be. You could say that it is assumed if you hang out with people who have certain behavior traits, you clearly have the same behavior traits.
This is definitely the rule of thumb which the Pharisees apply toward Jesus. Since Jesus is hanging around tax collectors and sinners, he must be a traitor to the Jews and participate in all sorts of activities which stand in opposition to God. How far from accurate are their assumptions.
Jesus, as always, takes on the challenge presented by the Pharisees in a direct manner. He indicates that the ones who have the greatest need for healing is his focus. The people with whom he is spending time are the ones who need him the most. They are acknowledging that need by coming to him, seeking mercy and to learn from him. Those who view themselves as not having a need for mercy and what Jesus can teach them, do not come.
Reviewing this interaction between Jesus, tax collectors, sinners and the Pharisees demonstrates for us which group each of us may be a member. Are you in need of mercy and teaching from the Lord? Or do you not have a need for such things? Are you sick and in need of the Great Physician? If you are, then seek out and spend time with the Lord, bring others with similar needs to the Lord with you. Jesus intends to hang out with those who recognize their need for him. We would be wise to do the same.
For centuries, the economy of the United States was agrarian. The farming of our nation’s fertile land and raising of livestock was the bedrock of the economy and life in general. It required many hands to raise the necessary food to sustain a growing population. Whether directly involved in planting, tending, or managing the agricultural components, or not, every person was reliant upon agriculture in some fashion. When the industrial age arrived, the number of individuals needed to run the farms was reduced by the efficiency of new machinery and technology. People migrated off of farms and into cities where industry and service fields flourished. While agriculture continues to be vital to our survival, the number of individuals actively engaged in it is greatly reduced.
Jesus uses an agricultural reference in today’s passage from Matthew. Speaking to his disciples, who were actively engaged in forms of agriculture, Jesus tells them to request from God a number of laborers to work in the field of humanity. It is clear that Jesus says this as he has just witnessed the magnitude of the needs of humanity. Jesus is acutely aware that it will take a large number of people to actively address the needs of the multitudes. Only by responding to the needs will the people be ready to comprehend the message of grace which Jesus has come to share.
While we maybe two thousand years removed from the time in which Jesus shared these words, the situation remains much the same. There are still thousands of people who have needs which prevent them from hearing the Good News. We are these workers who the Lord desires to send out. Whether it be in our own neighborhoods or in another country, the harvest is abundant and just waiting for us to come and do the work. All of this begins by each of us addressing the needs of those around us. If each of us makes an effort, the work can be less burdensome. When we take care of the needs of a person, we make them more receptive to hear about the Lord’s loving grace.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b, NIV)
We never know when our situation in life will suddenly change. A car accident may occur and our life is altered in countless ways. Our routine check up at our doctor’s office may result in the discovery of an illness which will require us to battle immensely. We may be asked into our supervisor’s office to discover that our position is being eliminated. An alarm awakens us in the night and after exiting our home, we watch firefighters work hard to save the house but the wind fuels the flames. All of these life-changing experiences, and more of greater and lesser magnitude, create a time of storm in our lives.
In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, a song which became a hit on its own was, You’ll Never Walk Alone. In the musical the song is sung twice. The first time is when the male lead, Billy Bigelow, dies and the female lead, Julie Jordan, sings it to comfort herself and cousin Nettie finishes it for her. The next time we experience the singing of the song is at the graduation of Billy and Julie’s daughter as the spirit of Billy encourages his daughter and Julie.
This song reminds us of Jesus’s words at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, commissions them, and then tells them he is always with them. These encouraging words have great value for us when we are facing life’s storms. The storm will not last forever. There is light at the end of the storm. We keep hope in our hearts for we have the promise that Jesus always walks through the storm with us.
For anyone who is familiar with agriculture, gates serve an important purpose if you have livestock. Pastures and feeding lots have fences and gates to keep the animals safe and where they need to be. If you have worked with any livestock, you also know that they can easily escape out of the narrowest of openings but once corralled, seem to have difficulty going back through a wide, open gate.
The passage we read in Matthew’s gospel is in the midst of a number of teachings which Jesus is communicating. He speaks here of gates. He tells those listening the importance of choosing the correct gate. The wide and easy-to-enter-through gate leads to destructive life choices. The gate which is narrow and difficult to find leads to a life of meaning and value. Jesus is teaching about choices.
The choices which we make in our lives clearly have an impact upon the direction our lives take. Sometimes the impact is noticed immediately while other times this is not noticed until after a period of time passes. Heeding Jesus’s teaching means being sure we are not choosing only the easy and quick rewarding option. Instead, Jesus tells us to search for the option which will have a lasting and spirit-building influence upon our lives.