Sunday 1 October 2023
Year A: 17th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 21)
Liturgical Colour: Green
- Exodus 17:1-7
- Psalm 78:1-7
- Philippians 2:1-13
- Matthew 21:23-32
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is in the temple sparring with the chief priests and elders of the people. They are trying to catch him out by asking who gave him the authority to act and speak as he was doing. He in turn talks about John the Baptist and asks them where they thought his authority had come from. Both questions go unanswered.
It seems that both John the Baptist and Jesus sat outside of the religious hierarchies of the day. The chief priests and elders enjoyed legal and traditional authority by dint of their positions. John and Jesus however, had a different kind of authority; one that came from personal qualities and charisma.
Charism is the Greek word used in the New Testament for gift or favour. It usually refers to something that is divinely given, rather than earned by work or merit. It is a gift given not to benefit the person themselves, but so that it might be used to build up the body of Christ. There are some eight lists of charisms offered in the New Testament.
Today’s passage ends with the story of two sons who were called to work in their father’s vineyard. The first said yes but then didn’t go. The second said no but then changed his mind and went. The first was keen to show their righteousness, but in the end was faithless. The second was reluctant, but repented, and was faithful.
Then Jesus says something quite shocking to his audience. The tax collectors and prostitutes, regarded by the authorities as ignorant and unclean sinners, will be going into the Kingdom of God ahead of them.
I often have the pleasure of finding myself in a room of lovely people asking them what gifts they have been given to serve the kingdom in their parish. You won’t be surprised to hear that people are usually a bit backwards at coming forwards when it comes to answering! You probably won’t be surprised either to hear that there are always some amazing talents and passions uncovered when people are invited to imagine that they are not showing off, but responding to divine gift and call.
I then ask what the needs of the parish are and ask whether there are any matches. What emerges doesn’t always fit into the pattern of ‘how things are done at the moment’, but that just makes it all the more exciting.
There is a saying attributed to Aristotle, that goes something like, ‘Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation’. We might paraphrase to say ‘where your divinely given gifts and the needs of your congregation and community cross, their lies your call to the vineyard’.
What are your gifts? What charisms have you been given through no merit (or fault!) of your own? Perhaps you might find some time this week to sit down and ‘own’ them and rejoice in them afresh. Maybe you might also like to ponder whether you are reluctant to offer what you have been given to building up the kingdom. If so, why might that be?
It is never too late to change our minds and head off to the vineyard.