Today’s Reading: Matthew 21:1-46
Matthew 21:28-32 reads like a typical weekly section assignment at Harvard:
There was a professor who had a seminar that met 1:00-3:00 every Thursday. He went in front of the class one afternoon and said, “Students, read this three-hundred page book for next week’s section.” The first half of undergraduates thought, “I will not,” but at eleven o’clock Wednesday night, they changed their minds and skimmed through the three hundred pages. The second half of undergraduates thought, “I will, sir!” but their extracurricular commitments proved too much to handle, and they never got around to reading the book. Which of the two groups did what the professor wanted? And come section time, which group had the better discussion?
When it comes to schoolwork, I find myself in the second group more often than I’d like. Despite my best intentions, sometimes I just don’t get around to reading every word of every assignment. My underwhelming walk fails to live up to my overconfident talk. And I pay the price for it in seminar. I think we’ve all been there at some point—watching the clock tick by agonizingly slowly, randomly picking one or two passages to close-read and say something pseudo-insightful about every twenty minutes, praying your professor doesn’t cold call you about that dry middle section everyone else probably skipped too, feeling guilty that you can’t add anything to the awkward empty pauses that always suck the air out of the room after the TF poses a question. Sometimes, it’s easier to see the consequences of inconsistency in our walk through section than in our walk with the Lord.
In Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus makes it clear which group he’d prefer us to be in. He praises the prostitutes and tax collectors for actually doing the readings when they said they wouldn’t—for believing His name and repenting of their sins despite their immoral “talk.” And he calls the Pharisees out for being fake section kids—professing to do the readings, to follow the Lord, when they prioritize personal prestige over repentance. They never get around to actually reading the text, but their showy prayers and religious clothes—their thin, buzz-wordy “push-backs,” we might say—keep up appearances.
When we step out of the seminar room, how well does our spiritual talk match our walk?
This passage gives us three points about making the two match.
One, the only thing that matters is what we say to God. Jesus is the Professor asking the questions; He’s the only one we need to worry about pleasing. The health of our spiritual life is the health of our relationship with Jesus, so our walk will match our Christian talk so long as we walk with Christ.
Two, it’s okay to have help. The other students in section keep us accountable. Jesus doesn’t specify this in the parable, but I wonder if the first brother changed his mind when he heard the second brother commit, at least in words, to obeying his father’s command. Jesus does point out, after all, that the Pharisees see for themselves how the prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of them. “Even after you saw this,” he tells the Pharisees, “you did not repents and believe…” Jesus wants the penitent “sinners” to be a source of motivation for the hypocrites. We all need role models in our spiritual lives, people to keep us accountable for living out our relationship with Christ.
Three, it’s okay to change our minds. The first son isn’t punished for his unfaithful talk, but praised for his decision to right his walk before it’s too late. Jesus doesn’t shame us for not doing the readings three weeks ago. What worries him is what we decide now—and what we decide next. We can never let past failures shame us out of seeking Christ—and keep us from changing those past failures into present and future faithfulness.
Next time we’re skimming three hundred pages the night before section, I hope we’ll remember to match our talk with our walk, not only in seminar, but more importantly, in our walk with the Lord.
Lauren Spohn ‘20 is an English concentrator in Currier.