15 December 2019
Be careful when a parable appears to be obvious in its interpretation. We've just read it - the father asks the older son to do something, he says no! shaming the father and certainly not pleasing him. Then changes his mind and goes and does the task.
The second son says yes Dad, showing his willingness to be obedient to his father. Pleasing the Father , then doesn't do it. "Which" says Jesus, to the church crowd, "did the will of the father? "
Jesus has just pointed out that those people who they excluded from worship in fact had heard John the Baptist 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 after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
And the Pharisees were very uncomfortable, they didn't dare say John was not from God nor admit that he could have been. . No wonder they were asking what Jesus" credentials were, they were trying to discredit him and his challenge to their accepted ways
But what was Jesus saying to them and to us? In fact the texts for this parable differ , in some version of the old manuscripts the sons get mixed up . We can't assume that the point about the one who goes and does the deed is in fact doing the will of the father. Is there something else we need to hear.
The rest of the New Testament says that we do not earn the Father's favour, by doing good work. And the parable of the prodigal son, remember the older brother in that, seems to tell us that stuff done reluctantly and purely out of a sense of duty and to achieve /earn the property is not what the Father's love is about.
No there is something more challenging for us in this.
Maybe we can say Yes too easily? even if it is well meant? The yes-brother wasn't a liar when he said “Yes,” but he became a liar when he failed to keep his promise. In his very eagerness in promising he became deceitful.. And when you say “Yes” or promise something, you can very easily fool yourself and others, as if you had already done what you promised.
It is easy to think that by making a promise you have at least done part of what you promised to do, as if the promise itself were something of value. But when you don't do what you promise, it is a long way back to the truth.
You know we like to please. And people like to hear what they want. I have seen people interviewing for jobs and someone comes in says I can do this and then this will happen. They believe and buy into it and then when it doesn't happen turn on the person concerned. Moses had only said God had asked him to lead them to a promised land, flowing with milk and honey . When the people are thirsty at Reprdim they start forming the "back to Egypt" party because their expectations of an easy ride have been dashed. Thye think that Moses is not delivering on his promises. But Moses reminds them that its not his promises its God's promises that we are travelling with. Moses does not take the place of God no matter how much pressure the people place on him. Moses complains to God about the stubborn lot he has been landed with and how God promised to give Moses what was needed for the journey.. God, who does deliver on his promises. gives them the water.
The “Yes” of promise keeping can lull us into a false sense of security. A promise seems great at the time its made, it makes us feel good, warm and fuzzy.but when we say No, we start to feel uncomfortable and it keeps on nagging at us. .
So suppose that neither of the brothers did his father’s will.
The one who said “No” knew that he was not doing his father’s will. A “no” does not hide anything, but a yes can very easily become self-deception, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
When you've made a promise to go do something but don't its really hard to see that you are walking backwards.
When a person says No and turns their back on someone and walks away, they know which way they are going.. That is that! But when a person finds a way of looking at the person whom he is walking away from, and in so doing walks backwards while appearing to greet the person, giving assurances again and again that he is coming, or saying over and over “Here I am” – even although he is moving further away by walking backwards – then it is not so easy realize that he is actively not doing anything.
With the help of intentions and promises, he keeps up the honest impression that he is moving towards the good, yet all the while he moves further away. With every renewed intention and promise it looks if he is taking a new step forward but in reality he is really taking another step backward.
Good intention can very soon flare up again in more passionate declarations of intention covering up the fact that nothing is happening.
We don't praise the son who said “No,” but he remains aware that he has said No. and when he changes his mind. Obedience and action come together as a response to the father's wishes and he actually does it.
Like all parables Jesus leaves us with the end to write in our own story, as to where we fit and how we respond. But reminds us and the Pharisees that to do the Father's will requires substance.
People want to please and say yes. A huge amount of damage is done when people promise what is not theirs to deliver.
The world's economic crash has come because too many people said yes to commitments they were not able to keep. There was no substance to the promises and the whole lot unravels when that is exposed..
Over and over I see families where there is shared parenting and little kids sitting deeply disappointed because often it’s a father , sometimes a mother, simply does not turn up to pick them up for an access visit. They receive a message that they are not important enough for their parent to bother keep a simple promise.to come and fetch them.
In a purely practical situation I was told a story on Saturday. A friend of mine was telling about one of his staff who had got into big problems with debt and needed some help. HE had a letter from the IRD , didn't know what it was about but he owed several thousands of dollars. His boss couldn't understand how this could be as his pAYE was deducted as it was meant to. So he got permission to phone the IRD on his behalf. And discovered that the money for families had been paid to this man, but when he did overtime he was meant to tell WINZ so it could be deducted. His employer was unaware of this, the employee did not understand the requirements. HE did not have a landline, only a cell phone and no access to the internet. Try phoning IRD with a cell phone and see how long it takes. And with mounting penalties for unpaid tax and repayments for the extra benefit which was intended to help his family he was being sent into debt by our systems which actually promise to help him. His boss was told by IRD that %0 million dollars were owned by people who were getting themselves into a mess with this. Yet the Government department concerned would say no we are helping families but It is not bearing the fruit that was intended.
The Pharisees are being challenged as to whether they are actually doing the will of God and not just seeming to go through the motions.
The one who said no, could not fool himself and eventually changed and bore fruit.
Obedience is wholehearted, not just a promise to act. Jesus calls us into following, not just looking at the road map. For some of the paths he asks us to travel are unmarked, unexpected and maybe some we wouldn't choose but he promises that he has the authority to be our guide and will stay with us all the way.
He is one whose promises do have substance.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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