Today’s Gospel reading reminded me of a sermon I heard preached a couple of weeks ago. Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus telling to the chief priests and elders the story of two sons. The father asks each of them to go out and work in the vineyard. The first tells his father he will not, but ends up going out and doing the work his father asked of him. The second assures the father he will do as he asks, but never does so. When Jesus asks his audience which of the two actually did the will of the father, they have no difficulty identifying the first.
In the sermon that so struck me, the priest spoke of “rhetorical Christians.” Rhetorical Christians, he said, are great at telling you what they believe. They believe Jesus Christ is their Lord and Master…they believe all of the right things, and they say all the right things. They are willing to shout what they believe from the rooftops. They talk about what they believe, but their actions provide no evidence of their belief. You can not tell it from their lives.
When Jesus asks, “Do you believe?”, what he is asking, said this priest, is: “Do you believe I can change you? Do you believe I can change anything?” Effectively, Jesus asks, Will you let yourself be transformed by Me? It is not about reciting a lot of stuff about what we believe. It is about being completely transformed by Christ. And there is nothing rhetorical about that.