Easter Devo Day 2

Holy Tuesday: Jesus Proves His Authority

Matthew 21:23-32, 42-46

Holy Tuesday is perhaps the least recognizable day of Passion week. Whereas the other days we see Jesus taking memorable actions: riding a donkey, turning over tables, or washing feet; Jesus seems to spend most of Tuesday just talking. For example in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says more during this Tuesday than he does for the sermon on the mount. Some of the talk is Jesus responding to questions, some is Jesus offering teaching of his own initiative, but the common effect is Jesus proving Himself to be an authoritative voice on the Kingdom of God.

In some subtle ways Jesus’ actions on the previous two days, Sunday and Monday, hint towards Jesus being the ultimate passover sacrifice. On the one hand Jesus shuts down the sacrificial system by driving out the animals from the temple, but on the other hand Jesus is providing Himself as a paschal lamb. Jesus also deliberately makes his entrance into Jerusalem from the northeast, likely entering through the sheep gate, so called because this is where sheep would enter the city to supply pilgrims with passover lambs. Curiously, some readers of the mishnah (a collection of rabbinic teaching) speculate that many of these lambs might have been born in pastures of the not too distant town of Bethlehem. The day Jesus enters Jerusalem was also the day that families were to select their passover lamb, but before this lamb was to be killed each family must ensure their chosen lamb was without blemish (Exodus 12:3-6). Perhaps it is no coincidence that Jesus spends much of Passion week deliberately in the public eye displaying his integrity and proving his authority.

Why would Jesus need to prove his authority? As we have seen Jesus made an incredible impact during the first two days he was in Jerusalem. Not only did he make a dramatic entrance that stirred up the city, but he subverted the sacrificial system and opened the temple up to those that had previously been excluded from it. This engendered both great interest and enthusiasm from those whom Jesus was uplifting, but also concerted opposition from those Jesus was criticizing.

As Jesus continued to teach in the temple courts he proved to be so popular with the masses that in effect he was shielded from the temple authorities directly deposing him. Though the leaders had already resolved to kill Jesus (Luke 19:47) they couldn’t stage a direct counter offensive for fear the crowds would kill them (Luke 20:6). So the temple leaders pursued a subtler approach to discredit Jesus: by pretending to approach him with genuine questions that were in fact meant to trap Jesus in an unpopular position (Luke 20:20). The leaders already understood that for them to kill Jesus they would have to turn the crowd against him. They would eventually succeed with this subterfuge, but not before Jesus proved Himself to be infallible when faced with their questions (Matthew 22:46).

This is the time and place that Jesus delivered some of His most famous teaching such as the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 22:34-40). For today’s reflection we’ll only briefly examine a lesser known teaching that is unique to Matthew’s gospel: the parable of two sons (not to be confused with the prodigal son story). Unlike some of Jesus’ more difficult parables, Matthew 21:28-32 may be one of the most forcefully clear illustrations that Jesus ever employed: which son actually did what the father desired? The son who said he would, but actually didn’t; or the son who said he wouldn’t, but actually did? The choice is painfully clear, and it’s not a trick question. Even though they were trying to trap Jesus in his words, they found themselves rhetorically cornered. This parable has truth in it that is still encapsulated in a number of our own pithy truisms: talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words, put up or shut up.

With this kind of airtight argumentation, Jesus uplifts the faithful repentance of the people labeled as “sinners,” while subverting the prestige of those who claim to be “righteous.” John the Baptizer may have been martyred but the truth of his teaching cannot be killed. Death will also be insufficient to diminish the authority and power of what Jesus is saying (Luke 21:33). If we can accept the truth that Jesus is teaching, we will produce fruit and enter into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:17-20, 7:24-29). We can trust Jesus’ word on this, he has it on good authority.