of Ordinary Time,
Year A, from
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The Lectionary Gospel reading for this morning gives us another account of Jesus’ ongoing challenge of the religious leaders of his day.
This confrontation was necessary because something new was happening in the nation, and these leaders continued to push against this new, fresh wind coming to them. Jesus was making claims, offering new ways to see ancient truths, but these leaders continued to see with old eyes and sedentary minds.
What they could not see was that this was the moment for which the nation had been waiting. What they could not see is that they were rejecting the culmination of all that GOD had been doing in the world, and that he was doing it through this man Jesus. They, who knew all the facts, were unable to put them in a new order because the picture toward which these facts were pushing them did not fit their world view.
Or, as Jesus said it elsewhere, they did not have eyes to see, ears to hear or hearts to understand.
But, we should be very careful indeed not to disparage these leaders too much, for often we are in the same mindset.
In this present text, in response to their unwillingness to declare whether John's baptism was from GOD or not (Mt. 21:23-27), Jesus tells a parable. It's a simple tale, really:
A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, 'but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?"
And then Jesus asks this pointed question:
Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first."
Of course, the point Jesus is driving home is that doing GOD's will is a matter of obedience.
Like the second son, these religious leaders can say, "yes, we are doing GOD's will," but then not actually go and do it. Specifically, and in context, this means rejecting John's baptism of repentance and John's way of righteousness, of which Jesus was the key.
Or, they could respond like the first son, and be like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who were not doing GOD's will at all, but who heard the message of John and changed their minds and actions.
Much could be said here. This text is powerful in its challenge to the status quo and in its unwillingness to allow the arrived to stay that way.
For our homily today I want us to think through four ideas:
- DOING GOD’S WILL IS NOT ABOUT TALK
- DOING GOD’S WILL IS DONE IN THE VINEYARD
- DOING GOD’S WILL IS NOT PLAY, IT IS DANGEROUS WORK
- DOING GOD’S WILL IS DONE BY THE OBEDIENT NOT THE PERFECT
DOING GOD’S WILL IS NOT ABOUT TALK
I know throughout this year I have driven home this point again and again, but I do so because I believe that it is so blatantly available in almost every text we have thought-through, and because I believe that knowing the truth is not enough.
Now, here again, Jesus counters our understanding of truth-knowing with the idea that knowing means doing, or better said, knowing truly involves doing.
At question is doing the Father's will. Again, in this context the doing involved repenting and believing John's message by doing his baptism and by doing his way of righteousness, a doing toward which Jesus was leading in his practices.
For us, the question of doing GOD's will is much the same. To be sure, we are not called to trek out to the Jordan and be dunked by a prophet, but with our baptism are lives are on offer to the Christ, which is much the same as those first followers were called to do.
The upshot of this means we are no longer what we once were -- however we self-identified -- and we are becoming, in practice, a new creation of GOD's grace.
For us, this calling to, "follow thou me," and "as the Father has sent me, so send I you," means we embrace the world with all its hate and violence and brutality. It means we love the world sacrificially as the Father’ love is displayed when the Son was sent sacrificially, as the Son loves it by facing the cross, and as the Spirit loves it by restraining the evil.
This leads to our second idea:
DOING GOD’S WILL IS DONE IN THE VINEYARD
Doing the work of GOD's will must include the places where we live beyond these walls. That is, wherever we have been placed (Mt. 13:24-30) there we are disciples, there we are burden-bearers.
Said differently, it is not enough, not nearly enough, to practice our faith once a week within the walls of the church on a Sunday morning, and then to live however we like the rest of the time. This is not discipleship.
Likewise, it is not enough, not nearly enough, to think that since we are not called to some sort of full-time religious service, we are therefore exempt from the calling of full-time discipleship. "I'm not called to preach, so I can live how I wish," just will not cut it.
I confess I do not know all that following the ways of the Christ fully means, but I do know it means leaving all. I do know it means following Jesus into the world of brokenness and deceit. I do know it means we forgo our comfort and ease for the salvation of the other.
And by salvation I do not merely mean a home in heaven when they die. If salvation means that, it means it secondarily, not primarily. Real salvation means life now for those who openly seek a new life and a new way to live. It means a humanness now, a humanness beyond selfishness.
Said still differently, we must earth the real Gospel (Arbuckle) in the real world. This will mean we must get our hands dirty within the un-antiseptic risk, as we love a world at war with itself, which leads to the next idea:
DOING GOD’S WILL IS NOT PLAY, IT IS DANGEROUS WORK
We must have no illusions about what the Gospel requires of its adherents. This work to which we have been called exists out there in the world, and it is bloody and dangerous work.
Sit beside the bedside of the lost and dying, feed the hungry and clothe the naked, minister to the addicted and the felon, this is the calling of the Gospel.
You see, GOD still loves this world, even though we have, collectively, chosen the path of self-destruction. In fact GOD, in the Christ, is hunting down the world, seeking it out, moving to prevent its slaughter and abject ruination.
This is our calling too. We are called to join the Christ where danger lives and where a cross waits. We too are called to give up the loved and known and our own self-will, and to offer ourselves to the unknown of the Father's will.
"Narrow is the way," says Jesus. When I think of this as an image I think of a sheer mountain trek, with a perilous and narrow trail sprouting cragged rocks on one side and a fall to the death on the other! That is, this path to which we have been called is difficult, so we must have no illusions. Here the air is thin and the rewards are few. But it is the way to true life. It is the way to true humanity.
Which opens to us the final thought:
GOD’S WILL IS DONE BY THE OBEDIENT NOT THE PERFECT
The text reads:
"When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did."
In Jesus' day it was the sinners who responded to the calling of righteousness and not those who saw themselves as righteous. It was the broken-by-life who responded to the offer of new life and a new way to live, not those who thought of themselves as having already arrived.
Again, there is much that could be said here, but I think the real kernel of truth lies in the fact that gratitude drives the forgiven to action.
Elsewhere, Jesus says,
"The whole have no need of a physician, only the sick," (Mt. 9:12)
to which we could conclude: those who have been healed by the great physician have gratitude as motivation, and those who see themselves as self-made-whole have little need of thankfulness within them.
Or, said differently, those who are being healed by the actions of GOD's work in the world through the Christ want others to find this same healing and this same humanness in GOD's work.
GOD takes all sinners, all who are in need and says,
"OK, you are being changed; you are being made whole, great, now go out into the vineyard and ease the suffering of another. Find another who wants wholeness and release and freedom, and tell them the good news that the most wonderful thing has happened. Lift their burdens like another lifted yours. Give them your place and let them know they matter to you (whom they see) and then to GOD (whom they do not see)."