What happens when you’re asked a question that changes your mind - and then, the
question ends up changing your way of life?
Thirty-two years ago, I changed my mind when I was asked the question, “Do you have a
drinking problem?” I really didn’t think I did. But when someone took me to an Alcoholics
Anonymous meeting, I changed my mind. I came to believe I was indeed an alcoholic. One day
at a time, I had - I still have today - a desire to stop drinking.
Later, I changed my mind again. I began to see how people I loved had been hurt by my
drinking. Over time, my self-image, how I saw myself, changed, because I was no longer just an
alcoholic. I was, I am a recovering alcoholic. In fact, I now believe that many of the ongoing
challenges in my life have been about things I need to recover from.
Questions can change our minds and even our lives. Not just any question, but questions
that send us on a journey, on a quest. Jesus asked questions. He also told people parables,
stories that sent them on a spiritual journey, a quest. When Jesus asked questions, especially
when he followed up with a parable, it was time. It was time for his listeners to consider
changing their minds - not to mention their lives.
In Matthew’s Gospel story today, Jesus enters the temple - for the second time. The chief
priests and elders, the religious leaders may well have considered him to be returning to the
scene of a crime. What might that crime be? The previous day, Jesus had come to that same
temple and overturned the tables of the money changers, much to the happiness of the blind and
lame, whom he cured while he was there (21:12-16).
“Those (leaders) in charge of the temple, still reeling from (what was for them) the
outrageous spectacle of the previous day, are,” according to one professor of religion, “in no
mood to coddle this countryside rabbi,” let alone change their minds about him. And yet,
“because of his motley band of followers, they feel constrained to deal with (Jesus) carefully.
Argument seems to be their only option, and (it looks like) Jesus…is feeling equally
argumentative” (Kathryn Blanchard, Feasting on the Word, p. 116).
When we human beings argue, we don’t always change one another’s minds. So…How
did Jesus try to do that? First, he asked a question. Then, he told them a parable.
Actually, the first questions came from those religious leaders. “By what authority are
you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus, like any good
rabbi - back then, right now - answers their questions with…a question. “Did the baptism of
John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? (21:25)
The chief priests and elders begin to argue with each other about their answer. They
realize they can’t answer the question without changing their made-up minds. So they say, “We
do not know.” Then Jesus says, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these
things” (21:27). Jesus wins the debate. But wait! There’s more.
Jesus is trying to help those religious leaders see how their minds need to be changed, so
they can understand him and his ministry. So, he does what he often does. Jesus tells a story, a
parable. It’s known as the parable of the two sons. It’s different from most of his other parables, because it doesn’t have a surprise ending - a zinger.
Here’s how it goes. One son tells his father he will go and work in the vineyard, but then
he doesn’t. The other son says he will not work, but “later,” Jesus says, “he changed his mind
and went….Which of the two,” Jesus asks the religious leaders, “did the will of his father?”
(21:29-31). The answer is obvious. It’s the one who said no, then said yes, and then, he went to
work. Why that son? Because he changed his mind.
Here’s the way I understand this lesson from Jesus: What matters is not what we say,
but what we do. Following Jesus is about doing, not saying. Now, our doing may well need to
come after some additional, serious thinking. When English and Scottish folk are faced with a
big question, they say: “I’m going to have a think about that.”
Listening to Jesus may mean I need to have a think…and change my mind. With the
religious leaders, Jesus does end with this zinger: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the
prostitutes” - that’s code for the “sinners” the chief priests and elders are always judging -
“(they) are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” (21:31). The tax collectors and all the
other sinners changed their minds and believed John the Baptist. “You (religious leaders) did
not change your minds and believe,” Jesus says (21:32).
In our Philippians lesson today, we hear St. Paul speak about the mind of Christ. “Let
the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). When we do change our minds, how
might we change them to be more like the mind of Jesus, more Christlike?
For starters, it’s about humbling ourselves, like Jesus did, Paul suggests (2:7-8). I
wonder: What’s more humble than to say something like “I may be wrong”? Or “I see your
point”? And not just to say those things, but to mean them, by changing our lives, by living our
lives differently. Those responses are very different from the words in one of my favorite little
jokes: “My mind’s made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”
If you’ve ever heard me preach, you know I love to ask questions. That’s partly because
the questions I tend to ask in my sermons are the ones I’ve been asking myself first. Sometimes
I don’t even have an answer to those questions. So today, I wonder:
What facts might Jesus be asking us to change our minds about? How might our
change of mind lead to a change of heart? What’s keeping us from changing? What are the
questions God has been inviting us - you and me - to consider? What questions does God have
in mind today for All Saints’ Church?
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke became famous when he wrote these words about
questions: Be patient, he said. Try to love the questions, like locked rooms or books that are
written in a very foreign tongue….And live the questions, now. Perhaps you will then -
gradually, without noticing it - live, some distant day, into the answers.