The Kingdom Is Full of Rejects and Misfits

by Rev. Kevin Daugherty

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Reading: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm: Psalm 25:1-9
Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-13
Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32

In today’s Scripture readings, I want to call special attention to the readings from Matthew’s gospel and Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In both these two passages, we find out a lot of information about the nature of Christ’s message. 

In our gospel portion, Jesus has come to the temple, and the Jewish clergy are not pleased. Despite preaching, performing miracles, and ordaining apostles, Christ was a common person. He was a “carpenter” (Mark 6:3). The Greek term is tektón, which means something along the lines of a “wood worker” or “builder”. Jesus was a working man. He was not part of the officially-approved clergy. In this regard, Jesus was much like the prophet Amos, who was a rural shepherd turned prophet. And like Amos, Jesus got into trouble with the clergy.

In this passage, the clergy asked Jesus, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” They wanted to discredit him, and that other trouble maker, John the Baptist. Jesus realized what they were up to, and he asked them about John’s authority in return. Jesus had outsmarted them.

Jesus gives them a parable in response. There are two sons. The first does not follow his father at first, but acknowledges his error and eventually comes around. The second son is stubborn and deceptive. He tells his father that he is following him, but does not. The first son is a true follower; he is the reject, the misfit, the sinner. The second son is the religious leader.

Jesus teaches us a radical message here:

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

The tax collectors were religious and national traitors; they were serving Rome. Meanwhile, the harlots were sinful women in a society that didn’t respect women. These two people were the lowest of the low, and yet they are going into the Kingdom while the clergy are not. This is a very anticlerical and irreligious message. It’s not those who have dotted every theological “i” and crossed every religious “t” who are going into the Kingdom. It’s the rejects, misfits, sinners, and heretics who know how broken they are and in need of God’s grace they are. They stumble and still try to follow God. The clergy say they are following but do not.

This teaching ties in well with Paul’s in today’s lectionary passage. Paul says something amazing:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus was one of the rejects and misfits. He had no reputation. He took the form of a slave, and he died the death of a slave. Our God came not to the religious establishment to simply reinforce their beliefs and biases. Our God came to shake things up and to preach a good news of radical inclusion, love, justice, and a new order of the ages.

If we are following Jesus, and faithfully doing so, it is unlikely that the religious establishment will like it very much. It happened to Jesus and his earliest disciples, and it has happened to every revivalist movement since. Jesus reached out to tax collectors, sinners, the sick, and unclean. Paul reached out to the Gentiles. As Christians, as followers of Jesus, it is our duty to love in such a way that we make the traditionally religious uncomfortable. It is our duty to proclaim the Kingdom.

“And I’m telling you [pastors and elders] the honest truth,” Jesus said, “that the hippies and the whores are taking the lead over you into the God Movement (Matthew 21:31, The Cotton Patch Gospel by Clarence Jordan).