While Jesus was occupying the National Cathedral, the bishops and the priests came to interrupt his teaching, saying, “Show us your papers, and tell us who you’re working for?”
Jesus said, “Here’s the deal, you tell me something first, and then I’ll give you what you want. But first you tell me whether John’s baptism was heaven-sent, or if he just made it up himself.”
They debated among themselves: “If we say John was authorized by heaven, he’ll ask us why we didn’t believe him. But if we say he just invented it himself the crowds here, who all think he was heaven-sent, will lynch us.” So they said, “We don’t know.”
“Fine,” said Jesus. “Then I’m not showing you my papers either.
“But think about this:
A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, you need to put in a day’s work at the family business.” And the son said, “Hell, no.” But later on, he went anyway.
The man went to the second son with the same order, and the second son said, “Yes, Sir!” But then he never showed up.
“Now which son did what his father asked?”
“The first one,” they said.
Jesus said, “No doubt there are bookies and whores who are closer to God than you lot. John told you how to do right, but you passed him off. But there were bookies and whores who got it. And even when you saw they got it, you still ignored the truth he was telling you about yourselves.”
Jesus did tell them whose authority he had that day. But, in the same way they didn’t get what John was saying, they didn’t get what Jesus was saying either. Jesus got his authority from his baptism – John’s baptism – in which Jesus, along with the bookies, whores and rest of the crowds who were there that day “got” that they were all children of God.
It’s the same authority everyone has who has “got” that they are God’s children. And, in the same way, anyone of any religion or no religion, who has “got” a calling and knows who they really are has that same authority. It’s the authority of knowing oneself to be fully human. As such, Jesus’ authority and yours and mine is no less than any other human on the planet.
In spite of those who think of themselves as “higher authorities” and set up social, economic, political, and religious systems wherein everyone else is robbed of theirs, Jesus and the rest of us have the power to do what we are called to do, by virtue of our humanity – even if that means occupying the National Cathedral (or any other idolatrous monument).
This is what the parable is about. Those who, in spite of rough beginnings, discover their calling and show up for life – live. Those who talk a good line about how everybody else ought to live, but never show up to live it themselves – don’t.