St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Monday, September 22, 2014
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Weekly Bible Study

Preparing for Sunday, September 28, 2014 | Proper 21, Year A | Sign up for Weekly Bible Study emails |  The Lectionary Page | Rector's Page | Printer-friendly guides
The Gospel | Matthew 21:23-32
When Jesus 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?" 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. 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?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." 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.

"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?" 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. 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."
Background and general observations
Although early church tradition has it that the author of this Gospel was Matthew, the tax collector, who was a disciple of Jesus, most scholars today believe that this Gospel was written between 80 and 90 AD by an Israelite male. The Gospel According to Matthew seems to have been written for a Jewish audience.  Jesus is the authoritative interpreter of Moses and the promised messianic king of Israel.  

In this passage, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem in triumph, with a very large crowd spreading cloaks and branches on the road as they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David….” (21:1-11)  Then, in verses 12-17, Jesus cleanses the temple and then cures the blind and the lame who were brought to him.  After a brief confrontation with authorities, Jesus spends the night outside the city.  The next morning (verses 18-22), Jesus was hungry and approached a fig tree that turned out to be barren of fruit.  Jesus cursed the tree, and it withered.  The disciples are amazed, and Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them about the power of prayerful faith. Our lesson follows that episode.
Ideas for discussing the application of this lesson to our daily lives
1. Why do the Jerusalem leaders question Jesus’ authority?
2. What possible answers could Jesus have given, and how would those have entrapped him?
3. What links the parable of the two sons to Jesus’ encounter with the religious officials?
4. Where does your authority come from? (education? wealth? position? gentleness? kindness? service?)  What sort of authority is sought out most in the world today?  What sort of authority is it most important for you to have?
5. Our lives often speak more loudly and clearly than our words.  What is your life saying?
6. Which son’s story is most like your own story?  
Fall Covenant Period (2014) 
Proper 21, Year A (September 28) 
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