The Will of the Father
Our parable this morning reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul. We’ve been studying the opening chapter of Romans in our adult catechesis, and in Romans 2 Paul says this:
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
In this section of Romans, Paul is showing that Israel is under equal indictment alongside the Gentiles. Merely receiving and hearing the law was not enough to make someone righteous. Israel would have had to keep the law, but in fact it had not.
Likewise in our parable, Jesus talks about two brothers who are asked by their father to go work in the vineyard. For context, Jesus is about to tell another parable about a vineyard, and in this case, the vineyard clearly is Israel and the work of the vineyard is Israel’s vocation. Jesus may not mean the same thing here, but it’s worth remembering the referring to Israel as a vineyard doesn’t begin with Jesus but rather goes back to the prophet Isaiah.
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
The Parable of the Two Sons
The Parable of the Two Sons
Either way, back in Matthew, the owner of the vineyard tasks his two sons with working in the vineyard. One says yes, while the other says no. In a turn of events, however, the one who said no actually goes to work in the vineyard, while the one who said yes did not go. So Jesus asks,
Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before 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 when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
What’s going on here?
What’s going on here?
In this whole section of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is indicting the religious establishment, so we would do well to sit up and take notice of what he says. Jesus is concerned about people who give verbal assent to the kingdom of God, but then don’t actually go out and follow Jesus on the way of righteousness. It is very easy to stand up in church and say “yes” or “amen” to all the things that we are supposed to say in the liturgy, but saying that yes is not the same thing as going out those doors and doing them. The one does the will of God is not the one give his assent but then doesn’t do the work, but rather than one who says no, changes his mind, and then goes out to do the work after all.
You see, the liturgy can lull us into a sense of checking boxes. I’ve talked about this before in a somewhat different context, but I think the metaphor applies here as well. The liturgy has everything that we need for a healthy diet of Christianity. It is a well balanced meal to which we give our assent by repeating the words and most powerful by saying Amen.
And then it ends.
And then what?
The last words of the liturgy are “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” to which you all reply, “Thanks be to God.” You give thank that God had fed you and called you to go work in his vineyard for his glory and for the good of others, but what actually happens when you leave here? I’m not prophet, so I cannot see through some spiritual window into your soul to know what’s going on there, nor do I really know what you do with the other hours of your week once you leave this place. What I do know, however, is that what really matters is not the “yes” you say in this space but rather what you do when you walk out those doors. Only you know which of these brothers you are. Or maybe you feel like a brother who isn’t mentioned here. You say your yes and you go work. That’s obviously the best option here, and I know we have many people just like that in this congregation.
But maybe that’s not exactly you. Maybe you say your yes on Sunday and then you sit there Monday through Saturday wondering what exactly it is you do for the kingdom of God. If that’s you, I want you to know today is the day you can have your change of mind. You can do an about face, and you can go work in the vineyard too. Whether that’s through this church or through an outside parachurch organization, there is plenty of work to be done in this vineyard of the Kingdom of God. And you don’t even need to work for the kingdom through a church or organization. You can do it yourself by simply loving others with a self-sacrificial love in the name of Jesus. So there’s no reason to wait. If there’s something going on at church and you want to serve, great, but there are numerous opportunities to share and show the love of Jesus in our daily lives.
If you’re asking yourself what this looks like, then I want you to take the insert in your bulletin with the Scripture lessons on it and look at the reading from Philippians 2 because Jesus is the model. Paul writes:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
If you want to know what it means to work in the vineyard today, that is the model, and the result is glory.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
But before we get to the glory part, we had to do more than say yes when we are gathered together in church. We have to say yes and then go out and do the work of the vineyard, which means not acting in selfish ambition or conceit. It means treating other as more significant than yourself. It means caring for and looking after other people as you look after your own interests. It means, ultimately, emptying yourself, becoming a servant of all, and being obedient even to the point of death. This is the work of the vineyard, the work of the kingdom. To say yes to this calling in this space and then go outside those doors and fail to do the work is to be on the wrong side of this parable.
May we always be found doing the will of our father, both in this space and outside our doors.