When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
One brother talked the talk. The other brother walked the walk. Jesus asks: Which of the two did his father's will?
Today's gospel is a short but powerful parable. To an audience of talkers, Jesus says that talk is cheap. Christ is in the temple in Jerusalem and he has not come to find favor with the religious movers and shakers. He has not come to whisper sweet nothings in the ears of the choir.
Jesus is the new sheriff in town - sent by his Father. And he doesn't like what he sees and what he hears. The Pharisees had argued the life right out of God's covenant. Endless debate and ritual had replaced the purity of devotion. Spiritual leadership had become a trophy for semantic gymnastics -- a meaningless prize that went to the clever, not the loving. And with it came the pride of self-satisfied, pious frauds basking in the trappings, not the reality, of God's favor.
Then along comes Jesus to blow the hot air right out of the temple...to replace all the cheap talk with a priceless message: Love the Lord with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. Got it? Good, now go do it. Don't just talk about it.
"Cheap grace": that's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called talking the talk without walking the walk. He decried "grace without discipleship", being able to parrot the word of Christ while living like the rest of the world. True grace is costly grace...not just talking, but walking with Jesus and shouldering his yoke.
To his clever audience and to us Jesus adds a final rebuke and appeal. You folks are too smart for your own good. Snap out of it. God expects a lot more than lip service. John the Baptist proclaimed it and even the tax collectors and prostitutes heard and understood. It's a wake-up call for us. We can't be Sunday morning Christians. We have to be 24/7, 365 Christians. We can't say a few prayers, sing a few hymns and then shed Christ's yoke as we cross the church parking lot. We must live in Christ and Christ must live in us. Full time.
We are here to witness his love in the world. We are here to make a difference...actively helping, sharing, giving and forgiving... and then getting up the next day and doing it all again. We are committed to walking the walk with Jesus. And he is committed to walking us all the way home.