Tuesday, October 31, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 31 October 2017

Jesus said: 'the kingdom of God … is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’ 
Luke 13. 18-19

Sometimes we look at the world and worry about the future of the Church. But we must never give way to despair; for it is in God's hands and he has promised us that not even the Gates of Hell will prevail against his Church.

Monday, October 30, 2017

prayer diary Monday 30 October 2017

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ 
Luke 13.14

The leader of the synagogue, in his zeal for the sabbath, forgot the duties of love and mercy, and our Lord rightly chastises him. However, what would our Lord say to the carelessness with which his day is treated in our time by many?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Good without God?

Sermon 5th Sunday before Advent, 29 October 2017
May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sometimes in the culture of the world around us we hear talk of people having no need of religion in order to be good. There is, for example, a book by a prominent American Humanist called 'Good with God'; and closer to home the group Atheist Ireland even has a charity called 'Good without gods'. This idea of human-based morality raises two important issues. The first is that in this context what is meant by being good? Presumably 'good' here must mean whatever people think of as good. The obvious problem is that when there are no objective standards of what constitutes right and wrong what happens when people disagree? In our modern world you end up with what is good and moral in one place being quite different to what is good and moral somewhere else, or even from person to person … which is bizarre when looked at logically. How can something be good when done by one person, and yet also be wrong when done by another?

Not only is the idea illogical, it is also, from the Christian point of view heretical, idolatrous, blasphemous, and, of course, sinful. It is heretical because it goes against the teaching of the Church that it is God in his infinite wisdom who fashions the moral law, not man. We might term it the heresy of individualism. It is idolatrous because it places the individual in the place of God when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong, thereby putting each person in the place of God for themselves – essentially worshipping themselves rather than God – the idolatry of the person. It is blasphemous in its open defiance of God and his authority as creator and sustainer that all that there was, is, and ever will be until the end of the ages. And it is sinful because it goes against what our Lord Jesus Christ, as we hear in our Gospel reading today, declared to be the first and greatest commandment; that we love the Lord our God will all our heart, soul, and mind. And those who do not keep God's commandments do not and can not love him, as our Lord and Saviour makes clear elsewhere in Sacred Scripture when he says that those who love God will keep his commandments.

That deals with the first of the two issues that I said claims that we can be good without God raises. The second is this: it suggests that the primary purpose of religion is to make us good. And it is not; that is a false narrative of the secular culture that sadly all too often many even within the Church not only allow to go unchallenged but often even accept. But it not true; it is in fact a lie. We are not called to be Christians in order to be good; we are called to be Christians in order to be holy.

And that is the only thing that makes sense if you really think about it. Genesis tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God; and therefore just as he is holy, so too must we be holy. God even tells us himself directly that this is what we must be. Listen again to what we heard in our Old Testament reading from the book Leviticus: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'” Naturally, being holy will lead us to be good; for the good man or good woman, the good boy or good girl, will all, out of love of God keep his commandments, not just as they apply to loving him, but as they concern loving our neighbour.

But can being good make us holy? Well, if by good we mean following God's law as set out in Sacred Scripture and the Holy Traditions of the Church, then it is indeed a good path to holiness. But if by being good we mean good as defined by the secular culture of the world around us, then I am afraid the answer must be no. How could it possibly be otherwise? So much of what the secular culture proposes openly defies God's law, calling a great deal of what the Church teaches to be good evil, and presenting as good many things the Church Christ founded has called evil on the basis of not only the natural law but the Divine Revelation that God has granted us.

As I draw to a close, there is something else that needs to be said concerning the idea of being good without God - things that the Christian must always keep in mind. It was God who created us and sustains us; the idea of being good without him is an illusion, for without him we are nothing. It was he who died upon the Cross to save us from our sins; without him all our efforts are as nothing. It is He, who through his Church, gives us the Sacraments that give us the Grace, the Strength, and the Divine Nourishment we need to make us Holy; without him we have nothing. God created us to be with him in heaven; and it is by our lifelong struggle, aided by him, to be Holy as he is Holy – a holiness that is reflected by a life that does such good deeds that are pleasing to him – that will lead us there. And it is such holiness of life that I pray for all here: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 28 Oct 2017

'Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ 
Luke 13. 4-5

The judgement for sin comes not in this life, but the next. But unless we repent, that judgement will surely come.

Friday, October 27, 2017

prayer diary Friday 27 Oct 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?' 
Luke 12. 56

Christ condemned those of his day who though wise enough to know what weather was in store, yet refused to recognise the truth of who he was. How will he judge those of us who call him 'Lord, Lord,' yet place our own will above his?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 26 Oct 2017

'And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 
 Luke 12. 19

The rich fool did not have the many years he hoped for to enjoy all he had; he had not even a single day. And what did his all his earthly wealth avail him – he who had no treasures laid up in heaven? This is why all of us, who also do not know the day or the hour we will be called before our Maker, must strive to be rich towards God.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 25 Oct 2017

'If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’ 
Luke 12. 39, 40

So many times in the Gospels our Lord speaks of the suddenness of death and the unknown time at which he will come again. He tells us this not to frighten but to warn us; for he loves us, and wishes none to deny themselves their chance of heaven.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 24 Oct 2017

'Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes.' 
Luke 12. 36,37

Again Christ reminds us that none of us know when we will be called before the judgement seat. Therefore live every moment as if in the next one might be your last so that you might spend every moment of the life to come with Christ in heaven

Monday, October 23, 2017

prayer diary Monday 23 Oct 2017 (St James)

And looking at those who sat around him, he said ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.' 
Mark 3.34. 35

All may be in a relationship with Christ as loving and close as with your dearest family member. But it requires that you not only hear his word but obey it also

Sunday, October 22, 2017

render unto God that which is God's

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our gospel reading today concerns one of the many occasions on which the religious authorities of our Lord's time attempt to lay a snare for him. And I imagine you know all too well the explanation for what they are trying to do, learned from your days in the schoolroom, sermons heard over the years, and hopefully even your own reading, what the trap is that they think they are setting. Should Jesus answer that that people should not pay taxes to the Emperor, then they will denounce him as a rebel to the Roman authorities – who will then, they hope, arrest him and at least imprison him and perhaps even execute him. But if he says that they should pay taxes – well, what sort of a Messiah is he, one that publicly declares that the Jewish people should meekly bow before the demands of the hated Roman oppressors? That answer, they hope, would finish him as a teacher of the people and remove him as a threat to their own authority. Whichever way he answer, Jesus is finished; something that will make them very happy.

Our Lord, of course, sees through their plan. 'Why are you putting me to the test?' he asks them. And he knows also that they are not asking him this out of a spirit of honest enquiry, but rather, as St Matthew puts it, out of malice; for he finishes his question by saying to them 'you hypocrites.' He then he takes a coin and asks them whose image and title is upon it; and when they say the Emperor's, he gives them his justly famous response of 'Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s' , as the old translation so beautifully puts it.

Our Lord, of course, does more than give a clever answer to his enemies with this reply. He also gives us two commands. The the first is that we must render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. This means that Christians must be good citizens of the state. We must pay our taxes, obey the laws of the land, provided that they are just laws that do not conflict with our moral duties as children of God, and uphold the state in the lawful exercise of its authority.

The state, as St Paul tells us, has the sword to compel us. And that is true. The state, at the end of the day, has the ability to use force in order to make us obey its commands. But the faithful Christian should not fear that ability, because he complies with all the just laws of the state willingly and cheerfully, not only in public but also in private. The consideration as to whether or not we will be caught in any wrong-doing ought not be a factor when it comes to how law-abiding we are.

The other command of our Lord's that lies within his response that day is that we must render unto God that which is God's. And we know, or should know, what that is, for Christ has told us. He has told us what the first and greatest of all the commandments is – to love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and heart. And he has also told us what it means to love God – those who love him will keep his commandments. And, as St John the Apostle tells us in his letters, those who say they love God and yet do not keep his commandments are liars. There are doubtless many who present themselves to the world, and perhaps even to themselves, as faithful Christians; but if they deliberately reject any part of God's law and refuse to obey it, then they are lying to both themselves and the world. It is such as they of whom Jesus Christ spoke when he said that there were many who call him Lord Lord to whom he will say depart from me, ye evildoers; I tell you that I never knew you. And they will be sent from him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There is one final message in the twin commands from our Lord in our gospel today. And that comes, of course, from the fact that sometimes our duty of obedience to the state will sometimes come into conflict with our duty of obedience to God. What do we do should such a situation arise? The answer is obvious. Obedience to God must always comes first. It is, after all, from God that authority on heaven and earth comes – as our Constitution acknowledges. 

And you will have noticed, I hope, that when I spoke of obedience to the laws I also said that those must be just laws. A law that, for example, tried to outlaw going to church on a Sunday would be just such an unjust law – it outside the authority of the state to interfere with a person's practice of religion - and therefore such a law must neither be tolerated or obeyed. Another would be if the state were to declare that a certain class of human beings could be arbitrarily killed. Justice requires the protection of innocent human life; and any law that suggests otherwise must be rejected and resisted. God and religion are not something that Caesar permits as long as they do not interfere with how he exercises power in any manner he sees fit; but rather God allows Caesar to have power in order that the societies in which his children live may be well ordered … and they can only be so if they are governed in a manner that is in accordance with the laws he has given us out of love, and which must lovingly obey in return … something that I pray all here will remember always, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 21 Oct 2017

‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others.' 
Luke 11. 42

It avails nothing to follow all the rules and regulations of Church teaching without love of God and neighbour in your heart. The Christian must obey God's holy laws joyfully and with love.

Friday, October 20, 2017

prayer diary Friday 20 Oct 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.' 
Luke 12.4,5

To fear for your life is natural. But take courage from your faith and consider rather what is more important and fear instead for your immortal soul.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Wear the wedding garment!

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

There are three categories of people in our Gospel reading today. The first are those ungrateful subjects who refuse their king’s lawful command that they should attend the wedding banquet. Some simply ignore his invitation and go about their daily business, treating his command with wilful disrespect; others go further and treat the king’s messengers with violence. And terrible is the fate that they bring down upon their heads because of their wickedness – they are destroyed and their city is burned.

The Holy Tradition of our Church has always been clear as to the interpretation as to who these people stand for. In the context of our Lord’s time, they stand for those who reject him and his teachings, and therefore reject both the Father who sent him and his will for the children he created. And Holy Scripture, as we well know, speaks to all ages; so we must consider as well the context of the age in which we ourselves live and what it means for us. This means we must consider the words of our Lord as being a prophetic warning to those who reject him, the Truth of his Gospel, and the Church which he established. No one should desire to be counted among those of this first category. For the destruction of which he speaks in his parable is, of course, eternal.

Moving to the next category, the king in the parable sends his servants into the streets to invite new guests. And so they do. And they are not discriminating. Good and bad alike are invited to the wedding banquet. And so the hall is filled. But it is not enough to simply accept the invitation, as what happens next shows when the king challenges the man who has come not wearing a wedding garment. This man is bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What does all this mean? Again, the interpretation has always been clear. God invites all into his Church. But it is not enough to simply enter in and pay lip service when it comes to following his commandments. For as Christ says elsewhere there will be many who say 'Lord, Lord', claiming that they have been faithful followers of his, who will be told that he never knew them and they must depart into that outer darkness. They may never have formally rejected the Truth of the Gospel, but they have done so in the manner of their living. They may have come to the feast; but they never put upon themselves the wedding garment of obedience. It is not enough to say you believe, or even to actually believe, if that belief is not followed by action. A Christian is not someone who makes a formal intellectual acceptance of God's Truth; a Christian is someone who puts that truth into practice, whatever the cost.

For what is the point of belief if it is not backed up with practice? Let us consider some of the commandments. We say we believe that the Lord is God and we will worship nothing and no one other than him – and yet we will give work, sporting activities, and social events priority above the practice of our faith. We say that we believe that we must keep the Lord’s Day holy – and yet churches are near empty while the day that is his is treated as if it were simply another Saturday. We say that we believe in prayer – yet how many will actually pray even once during the course of a day, much less attempt to engage in the ceaseless prayer that we are called to by Scripture? We say the words ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’ - but how many will then follow that commandment by practising the sexual purity, both in mind and in body, that have always been part of the teaching that Christ gave to the Church he founded? And so on.

These practices are the wedding garment spoken of in the parable – the humble obedience to God’s law and the good deeds that follow from that obedience. Failure to clothe yourself in it leads, as we have noted, to being cast out. And it is not a category that any should wish to find themselves among.

But humbling oneself and putting the wedding garment on, and wearing it always, leads to the eternal life that is represented by the wedding banquet. Those who are invited in and allowed to remain are those who have clad themselves thusly, the practice of their faith bringing them to the everlasting wedding feast of the Lamb that takes place in heaven. These are the third and final category of the three I spoke of as being mentioned in the parable. And it is this last category that I hope and pray all here will numbered among on the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord when all shall be judged. Even as I hope that all here will pray likewise for me, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 14 Oct 2017

'Give us each day our daily bread.' 
Luke 11. 3

Christ told us to pray for what we need for each day. How many of us labour for a future that is months, years, or decades away, a future we may never see? If you have enough for today be content; and labour instead for the kingdom of heaven.

Friday, October 13, 2017

prayer diary Friday 13 Oct 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

‘When the unclean spirit … returns … it finds (the house) swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and ... and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’ 
Luke 11. 24-26

Beware when you think you have made some spiritual progress. That may be the time of greatest spiritual danger as a sense of pride may make you more vulnerable than before. Remember that no achievement is yours but a gift from God; and with deep humility give thanks to Him.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 12 Oct 2017

So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 
Luke 11. 9

Our Father in heaven answers all prayers in the way that he knows is best for us. As you pray, then, strive to ask only for that which will be pleasing to him.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 11 Oct 2017 (St Philip the Deacon)

The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 
Luke 10.1

Tradition teaches that St Philip was one of those sent out by the Lord. So also are we sent and every human heart we meet is a place he intends to go. Consider carefully then how every act and word of yours serves to prepare them to meet the Living Lord.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 10 Oct 2017

‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ 
Luke 10. 41, 42

How many of us spend so much time on the cares of this world that we neglect to prepare for the next? Take time for prayer, worship, Scripture, and spiritual reading; for the time you spend with the Lord is the most productive of all.

Monday, October 9, 2017

prayer diary Monday 9 Oct 2017

'Which of these three ... was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ 
Luke 10. 36, 37

In the parable, the Samaritan says that on his return he will pay whatever extra is owed the innkeeper. For us to do likewise means that neither must we count the cost of helping those in need.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

taking control of the narrative

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today presents us with a case of a false narrative that is promoted by the powerful and which is commonly accepted versus the truth which is denied and rejected. The false narrative in question – fake news to use a phrase which has entered into common usage – is that the religious leaders of Jesus’ time are Holy Men who are doing God’s work in the world. The truth, as our Lord lays out in the parable of the Wicked Tenants, is that they are in fact doers of evil, and very great evil at that, and are very much opposed to doing God’s will – so opposed, as Jesus prophetically tells them, that they will even kill the Son of God himself if they think it is to their advantage to do so.

It has always been the way of the powerful to try and control the narrative, the story, and present things in such as a way as to justify their actions – and, of course, demonise those who oppose them. We may look to the Roman Empire of our Lord's own time for an example of this. There excuse for endlessly extending their territory was what they called the 'Pax Romanun' – Roman Peace. They did not act for the sake of power or wealth; no, their aim was much nobler, to bring peace and civilisation to the barbarian lands around them. The fact that they did so at the point of a sword, that the lands they conquered had often been quite peaceful lands before their arrival with civilisations far more ancient than their own, did not seem at all ironic to them; and that wealth and power came with their occupation was a mere accident of trying to help their less fortunate neighbours.

The false narrative of the European Colonial powers as they carved up the Americas, Africa, and Asia among themselves was in a similar vein. They did what they did for the benefit of the people whose lands they invaded, and whose natural resources they appropriated. We are not taking, they told themselves and the world; we are giving – giving civilisation and education, giving heath care and sanitation, giving roads and railways, giving unity and stability and peace. Naturally this comes at a cost … the cost of the crops of your land and the minerals under it and the labour of your people. But we make great sacrifices ourselves to bring you all this – we must live in your foreign lands to oversee all this … or at least our soldiers, drawn from our own lower classes must do so, and some few of our own elite classes to keep watch over them and you … and if some wealth makes it way back to own our own shores as a result, well then we deserve it, we have earned it, it is a small price for you to pay for something you never asked for in the first place.

These examples are, of course, historical: one from ancient days; and one from the more recent past. But what of our own age? Well one false narrative of the time we live in, one that should be of particular concern to us as Christians, is the myth that is heavily promoted by secular forces that our faith is not of Divine origin, but rather it is something that has been invented by men.

This, of course, is something that they are inclined to believe because most of them do not believe in God in the first place. To them God and religion is simply something by made up by some men in order to try and oppress others. And naturally since it is only a product of the human mind, it is something that can be changed at the whim of man.
Anything that they do not like, particularly anything that acts to put restraints on their sexual activities, can be cast aside.

And sadly there are many within the Church, who even though they do believe in God effectively act as if the teachings of the Church, the Church we must remember that was founded by Christ, are something that were invented by man and can therefore be changed. They find it difficult to face down the challenges that secular atheism brings with it; and so even if they will not deny God, they will deny the teachings he has given us as laid out in Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Traditions of God's Church. They are seduced by the culture around them; and they become more concerned, as St Paul puts it in his letter to the Galatians, with pleasing men rather than God.

It is easy to understand why. The forces at play in the world around us are powerful. And while we in the Western world do not face the open persecution and even martyrdom that Christians do in so many other parts of the world, we do face what might be termed soft persecution from the secular culture: our values mocked and called old-fashioned; things sacred to us ridiculed and even treated sacrilegiously; our opinions scorned and told they are something we must keep private and in no way allowed to affect how we speak in public debate and especially how we may vote.

However, we can not allow this to intimidate us. It is not the Christian way. And I can say this because we know this is not how Christ acted. When he was faced with the false narratives of his day he spoke out against them. And he did not fear to do so even though he knew it would cost him greatly. He laid down his life for us; and we in return can endure the mockery, the anger, and the dislike of those who hate God and religion for his sake and the sake of making his Truth known in the world. And I pray that all here will do until the end of their days: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 7 Oct 2017

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.' 
Luke 10. 17,18

The supernatural is not something reserved for the next life. It is active in this one too; and we, as Christians are called to be warriors in the battle against the forces of darkness that seek to consume us.

Friday, October 6, 2017

prayer diary Friday 6 Oct 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ 
Luke 10.16

Christ gave authority to his followers and the Church he founded to pass on the truth that he preached. Take care then that you what you listen to yourself, and what you pass on to others, is his truth, and his truth alone.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 5 Oct 2017

“Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 
Luke 10.11

Christ knew that some would reject those he sent with his Good News. Jesus told them when that happened to walk away; but as they did so to give a last reminder of what it was they rejected. We must take every chance then, no matter how remote it seems, to call all people to Christ.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 4 Oct 2017

Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ 
Luke 9. 61-62

Many think they will follow Christ when the time is right. And then they delay and delay until the chance has passed. The time to say 'yes' to Christ is now; for now is the only time we have that we can be sure of.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 3 Oct 2017

The Samaritans ... did not receive him ... James and John ... said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’But he turned and rebuked them. 
Luke 9. 53-55

Force is not Christ's way. Our time in this world is given us to work out our salvation; and the decisions we make to accept or reject God in this life will be respected in the next.

Monday, October 2, 2017

prayer diary Monday 2 Oct 2017

"Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you." 
Luke 9. 49, 50

People of goodwill are not the enemy, even if they are not believers. It is enough for now that by their actions the Kingdom is proclaimed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

our traps only ever trap us

Our Gospel reading today, where an encounter of our Lord with some of the religious leaders of Jerusalem is described, takes place on the same day as his triumphal entry into the city. Shortly after that he cleanses the Temple, chasing out the dealers in livestock and overturning the tables of the money changers, and declaring that his Father's House has been made into a den of thieves.

It is because of these actions that the chief priests and elders ask him by what authority he does these things. And we must note from the outset that theirs is not a sincere attempt to understand what is happening. The question is designed as a trap for Jesus. They believe that whichever way he answers they will have an excuse to condemn him. They have heard others refer to Jesus as the Messiah – if he admits to them publicly that this is true, well they can use that to their advantage. Other men in the history of their land have made such claims, usually men trying to stir up rebellion against the Roman occupiers. If Jesus tells these leaders he is indeed the Messiah, then they can run straight to Pilate, the governor, and denounce Jesus as being a threat to the security of the region. 

Perhaps, indeed, they hope Jesus will go even further than that. He has often referred to himself using the mysterious title of Son of Man, and he frequently refers to God as being his Father. If he were to claim Divine authority for his actions, then they would have an excuse to accuse him of blasphemy, and use that as a means of stirring up the crowd against him. They knew all too well, as we ourselves know from our reading of Scripture, just how fickle the mob in Jerusalem could be. And, of course, if Jesus denies having any special authority, denies being the Messiah or anything else, then they can use that to undermine him before the people. 'Look,' they will be able to say, 'even he admits he is nothing special – why they do you bother to follow him or listen to him?'

So they must be feeling pretty pleased with themselves as they wait for their answer. But our Lord, as he so often does, turns the tables on them. He says he will not answer their question until they have first answered his: where do they say the authority of John the Baptist was from. And, as we see, they dare not answer it honestly. They think John was not a man sent by God, but they dare not say it for they know that the people believe that he was; and they can not say that he was indeed sent by God, for then they will have to explain why they did not believe him and follow him. So the leaders are caught in their own trap. They know whatever answer they give they will make themselves look bad – just as they hoped to do with Jesus – and so they refuse to give any answer at all.

And having caught them in one trap, our Lord immediately catches them in another, by the question he asks at the end of the parable of the two brothers – a question, it might be noted, they can really not afford not to answer, having already failed publicly to answer the previous question Jesus put to them. Now, the interpretation of the parable has been made clear to us by the Church Fathers, those great saints and early leaders and teachers of the Church. The son who says he will, but then does not do as his father asks, stands for those present who claim to God's will, but in fact do not by rejecting Jesus; and the son who says he will not but later does stands for those who currently reject God's law – those who are objectively speaking leading sinful lives – but will later repent and obey.

The answer to Jesus' question as to which of the two brothers does the will of their father is so obvious that the religious leaders answer quickly, almost without thinking – and, of course, by declaring that the son who at first refuses, but then repents, and obeys is the one who is ultimately the one who is obedient, they condemn themselves.

Now, because we know these passages of Scripture speaks to us just as much as it did to those who were present when the scenes they describe took place, it is important as we draw to a close that we apply some of the questions asked that day to ourselves. First, consider that the chief priests and elders asked Jesus by what authority he acted as he did. How would you answer that question?  Would you say that it was because he was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity? I presume that all here would, or else you would not be here, you would not call yourself a Christian.

Now consider the two sons; of them both, who are you most like? Do you say you will obey the will of the Father, but do not – perhaps always finding excuses to justify your actions? Or do you sometimes struggle, but always repent, and then strive to do better to follow God's law? I hope that there are few or even none who in their heart of hears know themselves to be numbered among the first. But I also think that most, if they are honest, would know themselves to be among the second – sinners, but sinners who want to be saints. And if that sometimes seems hard, remember that it was such as those that Jesus said would enter into the kingdom – the kingdom that I pray all will enter into in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.