Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yes, but...No, but...

Gospel Matthew 21:28-32
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the father’s will?’ 

‘The first’ they said. Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.’

Probably worth mentioning that this passage come after the temporary joyfulness of the entry into Jerusalem and the fearsome table-turning in the Temple. 

By this time there is very little polite discourse left between Jesus and the chief priests. It is all blame and accusation as the religious leaders seek to find the right button to press to incite blasphemy or treason. Jesus responds with a quicker wit. Firing challenges at them wrapped in parable and judgement, baffling them with both law and expectation. The same weapons they used on the folk they were meant to care for. 

The very nature of their culture condemns the first son. 'I will not go'? To defy your father is against the Commandments. How many people sat outside the Temple condemned for a similar thing? His father has every right to punish him but, in not doing so, the son's heart is given time to consider. The decision to work in the vineyard comes from an inner acceptance of the work that needs to be done. 

The second son understands how to speak to his father. That he does not carry out the request is something he will answer for but only if he gets caught. In the meantime he can continue as a person of importance; a person to be obeyed. The ability to avoid the work of the vineyard becomes a skill all of it's own. 

The chief priests have this skill. Dressed in finery and saying all the right words they suggest a holiness and a dedication that is not echoed in the work they do for the People of God. They placate the Law with a veneer that reflects who they should be and hides what they are really like. 

The reputations of the tax collectors and prostitutes are scrubbed raw. Their 'no' to the Law might just as well be tattooed on their foreheads. But they are the ones sitting and talking with Jesus. They are the ones finding fellowship and dignity in the promise of a forgiving Father. They are the ones who will make up the Followers of the Way, being true to a teaching that puts Love first. 

In society it is easy to make your mark. To fulfill expectations; a good job, a good manner, passing Sunday mornings in a church full of people just like you. Saying 'Look, Father, I am here. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. But not by me. I've done my bit.' 

In the meantime - not in church, people say they are not religious. Yet they knock on their neighbour's door with a plate of food; slow down to offer a lift; ring a relative living alone; drop a couple of pounds into the hands of a street person; lift a pram onto a bus and smile at the driver. 

Truth is, even in Jesus' time it's not that black and white. Of course it's not. But it's enough to make us think, to test our understanding of what it is to be our Father's children. If our words give life to our actions then let our 'yes' be 'yes'. 



Lynda said...

Very clear explanation of this parable. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lynda :)