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Change Your Mind

“Even after you saw it, you did not change your minds.”

God wants us to change our minds.

And that’s a problem. Because we don’t like to change our minds. Changing your mind can be really hard. Sometimes, there’s a lot at stake.

‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go.”

Which of the two did the will of his father? It’s pretty clear that it’s the first.

God wants us to change our minds.

In fact, you could even say that the purpose of our lives is to change our minds.

Certainly, we hear it throughout scripture.

“Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.” These are first words spoken by both John the Baptist and by Jesus in their public ministry.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” says Paul in today’s reading from Philippians.

God wants us to change our minds. It’s the work of a lifetime. In fact you could even say that our whole lives, this entire universe has been given to us, has been created for us, as the time and the space that we need to change our minds.

Most often, we change our minds when we see things. That is, when we experience something new, when we see something with our own eyes that doesn’t align with the way our mind thinks about and orders the world around us. This misalignment creates an opportunity to change our minds. Psychologists might talk about this as cognitive dissonance.

And when it happens, it opens up new possibilities for our way of thinking and acting.

When we first saw the reports of abuse in Indigenous residential schools, that created the opportunity to change our minds.

When we saw the little boy Alan Kurdi wash up dead on a beach in Turkey as a refugee, that created an opportunity to change our minds.

When we saw the reports and heard the stories of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, surely that was, and remains, an invitation to change our minds.

When we see the video of the police officer with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, how can we not be confronted by the need to change our minds?

When we see how our senior care homes during this pandemic rely on the work of those seeking asylum and permanent residency in this country, this too is an opportunity to change our minds.

But sometimes we miss the opportunity. Hear again Jesus’ lament about the chief priests and elders at the end of today’s gospel.

“Even after you saw it, you did not change your minds.”

Because when we see things that challenge our way of thinking, it can go two ways, can’t it? Either we can change our minds, or we can double down on the way we already think, justifying our own positions and attitudes and actions. Believe me, we’re good at that. We’ve developed that skill.

Because it’s hard to change our minds. Sometimes, changing your mind, especially right at the beginning, will make it feel like a rug has been pulled out from underneath you, like your whole world is crumbling. Sometimes there’s a lot at stake.

There’s a lot at stake in today’s gospel.

We’ve skipped ahead in the gospel of Matthew. Today’s reading is set on the day after what we call Palm Sunday. Jesus has arrived at the centre of power and privilege of the Jewish world of his time. On the Sunday he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem to the shouting of crowds proclaiming him as Messiah. He went straight into the Temple, the centre of Jewish life, and occupied it. He overturned the tables and drove out the buyers and the sellers, the moneychangers, without whom neither the sacrificial life nor the financial life of the Temple could function. Then he set up in the Temple, curing those who were ill, and teaching.

That was day one. At day’s end, he left to spend the night outside the city. The next morning when he came back to re-occupy the Temple for a second day, the authorities were ready for him. There was a confrontation.

The chief priests and the elders were the hereditary and landed aristocracy charged with running the Temple and the nation by the Roman occupiers. They knew immediately that the stakes were high when this upstart Jesus occupied the Temple. Not only were their own power and privilege on the line, but so was the future of the Jewish nation under Roman occupation and future of the Temple itself. This was very much a matter of life and death.

And with the stakes so high, when faced with the choice of changing their minds or doubling down, they chose to double down. Which is what most of us do, most of the time. Sometimes the alternative is too terrifying.

The authorities confront Jesus, they try to trap him with a question about authority.

“By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?”

The question is a trap. If Jesus answers that his authority is from God, he can be accused of blasphemy, for which the penalty is death. If he declines to do so, he will lose credibility with the crowds who support him.

His response is politically brilliant, affirming that his authority, like that of John the Baptist, is from heaven, without actually saying so directly, and at the same time exposing the hypocrisy of the chief priests and elders for all to see.

But there’s something else going on as well. Jesus asks a question about the baptism of John. Do you remember what the baptism of John was about? It was a baptism of repentance. A changing of mind. There it is again.

Jesus’ question to the authorities, and then the series of parables he goes on to tell, only one of which we heard today, are intended to create a space, to open up a space, for the chief priests and elders to change their minds. Even though they are doubling down on their wrong-headed ways, even though they will soon condemn him to death, Jesus never gives up on the religious authorities. He exposes them for who they are, he makes it clear that they are in the wrong, but he never gives up on them. He keeps opening up that space for repentance. Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t say to them that the tax-collectors and prostitutes are going into heaven instead of you, he says that they’re going ahead of you. Because you have yet to change your minds.

“Even after you saw it, you did not change your minds.”

But it’s not too late. When the authorities utter their pathetic “we do not know,” in response to Jesus’ question, when they hear the parables directed towards them, they are forced to confront an uncomfortable truth about themselves. Often the first step in changing our minds is to grasp an uncomfortable truth about ourselves. That opens up for us a space for repentance. Our lives, even this entire universe, have been given to us as a space within which we can change our minds.

Because that’s what we’re here to do.

Paul, who changed his own mind big-time in his life, puts it this way in his letter to the Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,

Did not regard equality with God

As something to be exploited,

But emptied himself,

Taking the form of a slave

Being born in human likeness

And being found in human form,

He humbled himself

And became obedient to the point of death,

Even death upon a cross.

What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went.

Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.


Homily: Yr A P 26, Sept 27 2020, St. Albans

Readings: Ex 17.1-7; Ps 78, 1-4, 12-16; Phil 2.1-13; Mt 21.23-32

Image by YeeChao Koh, Creative Commons

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