You can change your mind. Matthew 21.23-32

Matthew 21.23-32

The two sons. Andrei Mironov

This reading is a challenge to us to change our mind
To change our mind about Jesus.

Jesus tells a story about a person who changed his mind, to people who refused to change their mind.

The priests and the elders of Jesus’ time were convinced that Jesus was a spiritual fraud. He claimed to speak as if he came from God, from above, but he was in fact very human and from below.

His authority, they were convinced, came from a marriage of arrogance and ignorance, backed up by some sort of charismatic ‘magical power’ which, they argued, was probably demonic.

If Jesus was from anywhere, he was not from up there, but from down there.

And they were not going to change their mind about him.

So when they ask Jesus, where does your authority come from?, he does not say, ‘from God’. He knows that will change nothing.

Instead he asks them what they thought of John the Baptist

John was a sort of cross between Sergius of Radonezh and Billy Graham.

St Sergius lived in the C14th. He went out into the wilderness – not a desert because there are not many deserts in North Russia - but to the forest. And he built a church (today it is the Trinity church in Sergiev Pasad) and he built a small cell where he could live and spend his time in struggle and prayer in order to attain stillness and vision. But people heard of his holiness and they came out to see him.

John also went into the wilderness, and people came to see him, but John was first a preacher rather than a contemplative. I guess he was a bit like a Billy Graham of the time. He preached that the Kingdom of God was coming, and he called people to repent: to turn from living for themselves and the things of this world and to start to live for God and the things of the Kingdom. To change their way of thinking and to change their lives.

And to show that they were really serious about this, they came to be baptised by him: they were washed in the river Jordan as a sign that their sins were being washed away, and they were beginning a new life.

The people loved John. The ordinary people. They flocked to him. And particularly people who had led obviously God denying, kingdom denying lives: people who had had nothing to do with church, who had lived for money – even if it meant working for a hated occupying force - or people who had chosen freely to sell their bodies to get money – I’m not talking about those who are forced into prostitution. These are the tax collectors and prostitutes who came to John, believed what he was saying, and repented.

Oh and by the way, John didn’t just call the powerless to repent. He spoke to the leaders of the land. He challenges the very head of state to repent from an immoral lifestyle, because he had married his brothers divorced wife.

And because he spoke truth to power, he was executed.

So far, so good. The bit that the priests and elders found difficult was not the fact that John preached that the Kingdom of God was coming. The bit that they found difficult was that he also preached that Jesus was the King of the coming Kingdom.

So Jesus asks the priests and the elders, ‘What do you think of John and his baptism? Is he from up there or is he from down here?’

And they couldn’t answer that question.

If they said what they believed: ‘from down here’, then the crowd which had gathered round to listen would have rejected them. Because the crowd was convinced that John was from up there.

And if they listened to the crowd and they said, ‘from up there’, then Jesus would say, ‘listen to him and believe him. If he was from up there, then my authority is from up there’.

It wasn’t just Jesus being clever with them.

There was a point to his question

They were asking him where his authority came from. He was challenging them to think where their authority came from. Because it seems that their authority was what the people thought about them.

And so they say, ‘We won’t answer your question’, and Jesus replies, ‘Well in that case, I won’t answer your question. But I will tell you a story about a person who changes their mind.

What is it that would make us change our minds and believe in Jesus?

It seems to me that when Jesus tells the story of the two sons, he is telling the elders and the priests that – even now – they can still, like the first son, change their minds.

He says, ‘Look at John the Baptist’. He thinks I come from above.
Look at the people who came to John the Baptist and who changed their minds.
Look at the tax collectors, the prostitutes. They had said no to God. But then they heard John the Baptist and actually did what God wanted them to do.

They believed John the Baptist, and they changed their mind, and they began to live for God.

I sometimes think that I am in the job of persuading people to change their minds, to believe in God and Jesus.

But that is not my job. I cannot persuade anyone. Only God can do that.

My job is to preach what I have become convinced of, what I hold to be true – in humility, recognising before God that I am a sinner saved by the love of God - and to be there for people who God has already spoken to or touched, who are beginning to think – to think this through – and who are ready to change their minds.

I have known people who have been argued into the Kingdom of God.
I have known people who have had powerful experiences of God and become Christians.
But by far the biggest reason why people change their minds about Jesus, and think that here is someone who is not from here (below) but from here (above) is because they see the lives of people – of people who are like them - who have met with Jesus and who are changing.

I think of two particular couples.

S in Bury St Edmunds came from a nominal Hindu background. He was married, in an arranged marriage, to S. She was a committed Christian. A few months after they were married he came and asked for baptism. I asked him why, and he said it was because he saw what faith in Jesus did for his wife.

There was another couple, who I remember clearly, but can’t recall their names. She became a Christian, and several months later, he became a Christian. He said, I saw the difference in her. She is much more peaceful and patient – with others and with me. I want what she has got!

And that is the reason why Church is so important.

I am very aware that there are many people who do not come to church because they believe.
They come to church to find out what is going on, because they like the atmosphere, because they want to be with people who do believe.

When I was at university we were taught a model of how to share the faith. We were to talk with people, pray for them, persuade them of the truth of Jesus, get them to pray a prayer of commitment, and then invite them along to church.

It very rarely works that way round. 
Usually people start to come to church, or to meet with a group of Christians, and as they spend time with those people, they begin to change their mind.

Many of us find it hard to change our minds: 
it means that we have to go from certainty to doubt maybe to a new certainty.
Maybe that is because we are lazy, and we can't be bothered to think, particularly as we get older. 
Maybe it is because we are worried about what others will think of us.
Maybe we have too much invested in a particular point of view.

I sometimes wonder whether that applies to me. 

I am deeply convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ – both because it seems to me to make intellectual sense, but more because I see it reflected in the lives of others, and because it makes sense and matches with what I experience in a relationship with him.

But I do wonder what I would do if someone proved beyond doubt that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen and that his bones are rotting somewhere in the earth.

Would I have the courage to change my mind and turn my back on the Christian faith? Would I have the courage to admit that for the last 50 years of my life, I have lived a lie?

The world would seem a much colder bleaker place without God, but more to the point, what happens to my status, my job, my pension, my security, my credibility?

I hope that I would have the courage and the integrity to change my mind.

But the great thing about this story is that Jesus is speaking to people who have rejected him, who are convinced that he is simply a human being speaking with human authority.

And he is saying to them and to us: it is not too late.

The son said no, but he changed his mind, and did the will of his Father.

And the good news is that whoever you are, if you think of Jesus simply as a human teacher, or if you think of him as a purely human phenomenon, it is not too late.

Look at people who do believe. Look at people who are trying to live as followers of Jesus

And realise that you can change your mind.

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