Daily Devotion – September 21, 2020 – Dr. Pat Taylor Ellison

Matthew 21:23-32
21:23 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?”
21:24 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.
21:25 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?’
21:26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”
21:27 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.
21:28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
21:29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
21:30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.
21:31 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.
21:32 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.

Let’s look at the very end of this story and the encounter with the church leaders of Jesus’s day who were trying to trap him but were hamstrung by their own inactions and their fear of the people.

Jesus tells them that prostitutes and tax collectors will be going into the kingdom of heaven ahead of these church leaders. They will go in ahead because they believed in John and they believe in Jesus, and the church leaders do not. The lower class folks will get the higher class treatment from God. It is a constant theme in Jesus’ teachings, isn’t it? The last workers get paid a full day’s wage. The errant son gets the father’s big welcome home.

What does this upending of the world view say to us today, especially us life-long Lutherans who think we know the way things ought to work?  If we are to believe Jesus, we had better be ready for surprises. For last-minute up-ending. For a little jaw-dropping shock. The minute I think I have God figured out, and my calling from God either done or in some way fixed and rigid, God is going to come along and catch me up short. Because that is what God does to breathe new life into me. Every day.

So the next time I pray, I am going to make it a point not to just launch into the laundry list of things that are upsetting me or the people I am worried about. First I am going to make it a point to listen to what God might be up to at this moment in my life. To hear what God wants me to pay attention to. Listen first. And if God speaks to me through someone I would never imagine God speaking through, someone I consider less worthy or surprising, I am going to pay attention.

Listening for God, looking for what God is up to, especially in unexpected places, is what believers in Jesus’s God should be doing. Why? Because that is the God Jesus revealed to us.  God is on the loose.

Gracious God, Thank you for loving us. Thank you for being surprising. Help us to keep up with you and pay attention to your call to us and your work in the world. Even in unexpected places.Amen.