I think that we have all heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words.” Most likely we have more than heard the phrase, the words have impacted us directly. Who hasn’t been disappointed when promises have gone unfulfilled? We have all been burned at one time or another when trusting in words that have left us betrayed. Every election cycle words are spoken of peace, security, justice, unity. Yet, the disunity, fear, anger and corruption continue. The challenge from the reading for those of us who call upon Jesus is to do more than say words but to repent and do the actions that Jesus did and lived.
Chief priest and elders of the people were demanding to know by whose or what authority Jesus overturned the money changing tables and called the Temple a “den of robbers.” Jesus would only respond to them if they decided on John the Baptist’s authority for calling the people to repent and prepare for the coming reign of God. Was it of human or Divine authority? After a brief discussion, they chose the politically astute answer – they punted. The chief priests and elders may have had leadership roles but they were not “of” the people. They served by Roman permission and lived lives of privilege that the people couldn’t relate. Sure they spoke the words from God but their actions were empty.
Jesus then challenged them with a parable of a father who sent his two sons out to work in the fields. One said, “no” but later went. The other said, “yes” but never showed up. Which did the will of the father? The answer was obvious. Jesus then gave the stinging rebuttal that prostitutes and tax collectors would proceed them into the kingdom of heaven. Tax collectors took in the revenue to help finance the Roman occupation and so they were considered traitors. Prostitutes and traitors would enter the kingdom of heaven first. Why? They heeded John the Baptist’s words and changed their lives to welcome the reign of God. Actions the chief priests and elders of the people wouldn’t take.
So will we be people of words only? Or, will we take the risk to change the lives we live to make those words come alive? This is the challenge for those of us who call upon Jesus. Will we simply say the words or will we personally change to follow what he did and lived?