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  • Robert John Andrews

Reflection: My Two Sons





17th Sunday after Pentecost

“My Two Sons”

September 27, 2020

Lycoming Presbyterian Church

LESSON AND REFLECTION Matthew 21: 23-32 – My Two Sons

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.

31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For 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.

Went out to the mailbox to collect the mail the other morning. Found the usual. Bills. Flyers about the presidential campaign. Non-profits soliciting donations. Which is okay, our daughter works in development for a non-profit.Advertisements for oil changes or hearing aids. Then there it was. This one made me stop before recycling. Highlights Magazine wanting me to subscribe.

I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed flipping through a Highlights Magazine. Must have been decades ago in Doc Nelson’s office or at the Dentist’s office. I love these things. Even got stickers with this one. Find the hidden picture. Stories and puzzles. Jokes and riddles. The Timbertoes.

I loved Highlights, except for one regular cartoon series. You might remember: Goofus and Gallant. Two boys, one misbehaving, and one insufferably courteous and kind and good. Immature Goofus, and mature, responsible Gallant. Boy, my brothers and I wanted to beat up Gallant.

In Jesus’ parable, which one is Goofus and which is Gallant?

The first son, let’s face it, at least is honest, with him saying “No, dad, I don’t want to work in the vineyard,” but regrets and changes his mind and does what dad wants him to do. Or the second one who is dishonest and sticks to his sweet lie to his dad. Sure I will. But doesn’t.

Do people really change or do they adjust and modify their behavior? Can the leopard really change his spots? Maybe not a leopard, but where would we be if we never learnt to repent, to say we are sorry, to say we need forgiveness.

That’s what this parable is all about. When Jesus says how the one son who said, “No,” to dad changed his mind, the word isn’t the usual word for changing your mind -- having an after-thought – in Greek, meta –change, noeo – mind – which is the word we commonly translate as ‘repent.’ The word Jesus uses here is ‘metamelo.’ A change not specifical of mind but in what your care for – meta, change, melo, what you care for. It’s similar to the famous Law of Attraction: You are what you care for. You are what you love. If you eat 18 Twinkies a day you are a Twinkie. This is why I grin at folks who say they are atheists. Nonsense. There’s no such thing as an atheist. Everybody has a god they love, a god they worship. The real question is: which kind god?

metamelētheis μεταμεληθεὶς›

Parables. Frustrating, vexing, annoying Jesus never answering a question. Jesus answering a question with a question, forcing us to make our own conclusions. Parables: They are meant to press and push; they often insult. Get under our skin.

Which kind of son (or daughter) are we? The liar or the fellow who first says “No” to dad but changes his mind and does what he his father wants him to do?

~~~

What motivates a person to change their mind (or what they care for)? What motivated the son to change his mind about working in the vineyard? -- meaning Israel, which is a metaphor meaning to go out and cultivate God’s world.

A guilty conscience? Ashamed for having disrespected his father? Take note, this takes place in a culture where if a father is shamed by his son, honor might require him killing his son. Ah, guilt – mother’s milk! Yes, son, we expected more of you. Cutting words. The son realizing he should have treated his father the way he’d like to be treated. Converse is true too: to treat your child the way you’d like your child to treat you.

What motivates a person to change their mind (or what they care for)?

A sense of duty? The son gives in and recognizes his family obligations and is sorry for forgetting them. How many times have we balked at being given a dirty job? Can we imagine the soldier grumbling at his orders? – I don’t want to go – but he or she does for the sake of the squad.

What motivates a person to change their mind (or what they care for)?

A sense of gratitude? I guess I shouldn’t have been so rebellious and rude considering all that they have done for me. I should be more appreciative. A dear friend shared with me how she was in an abusive relationship. Abusive husbands are very controlling and he controlled her, denying her friendships and outside contacts. But weekly an unknown someone would leave little boxes at her kitchen door containing simple baked goods. My friend realized someone knew. Someone cared. That anonymous kindness kindled in her a changing of her mind about her situation, she appreciated the anonymous contact, and she began her journey toward safety and a new life. She became of one of Grove’s best Clerks of Session.

What motivates a person to change their mind (or what they care for)?

Perhaps a change of mind can be motivated by being persuaded by facts. How often nowadays do we see people smoking cigarettes? Fact: smoking causes cancer. Mine was Old Gold. We’re getting it right. Some of us here remember when science finally convinced Congress that lead in gasoline or paint or water destroys our brains. Congress finally had the guts to buck the fossil fuel industries and enact legislation to put people over profit. By 1978 the “phase-out of lead had begun. By 1991 average blood lead levels in the United States had dropped 77%” [National Resources Defense Council]. Thank God for EPA regulations.

Facts – a strong motivator. Even my born-in-the-bone Republican father eventually had to concede that Nixon was guilty. And one of his sons had to admit the good that President Nixon did. The EPA, the trip to China.

What motivates a person to change their mind (or what they care for)?

My own Calvinistic view of our peculiar humanity leans toward thinking that the main reason most people change their minds is because they get so darn fed up with the way things are. It’s got to get better, says the drunk to the gutter. There’s got to be something better, says the employee sick of a dead-end job. The fed up husband and wife admit that their marriage is unhappy and unsatisfying so, in the best of situations, they decide what they each need to do to fix it, how they each need to change to create a new relationship. Fed up too, a people start marching for equal justice under the law.

~~~

The Parable of ‘My Two Sons.’ This is the kind of parable that kept getting Jesus in trouble with the religious big boys because they got stung. They seek to entrap and condemn so they can feel superior. Jesus seeks to redeem. Jesus makes it so personal.

Of course, Jesus might also smile because he had an odd way of seeing everyone as sinners. We all can take every good thing and turn it perverse. Even love. Sin isn’t a matter of good and bad; it’s a matter of goodness distorted. We can distort even love and love wrongly, even faith and use faith to punish, to be cruel.

Jesus looked upon the Pharisees and scribes as law-abiding sinners and the tax-collectors and prostitutes as law-breaking sinners [Dr. Ken Bailey]. Which suggests Jesus isn’t so much concerned with enforcing the law and condemnation as with offering grace and liberation. Both law-abiders and law-breakers need God’s transformation and restoration.

For Jesus sees as equal before the Heavenly Father’s saving justice both the law-abiding sinners, these Scribes and Pharisees, and the law-breaking sinners, these the least who tend to be much readier to be motivated to change their minds, to change what they care for. They recognized they needed the chance John the Baptist brought them. A healthy sense of honest desperation. The law-abiding sinners continued to lie to themselves and refused to realize they were sinners. Law-abiding sinners lack the gift of shame.

In men whom men proclaim divine, I find so much of sin and blot

In men whom men condemn as ill, I find so much of goodness still

I hesitate to draw the line Between the two, where God has not

--Lord Byron

Or as Doc says in the movie, “Cowboys and Aliens:”

I can't rightly absolve you of your sins

if you don't recall 'em, can I?

That being said,

I've seen good men do bad things

and bad men do good things.

Which son ultimately would the father be prouder of? His lying son or the son who realized he was wrong? A father’s pride in his son is a powerful thing.

We are all Goofus.

As Festus in Gunsmoke said: “Some are born to lose. Some got to work at it.”

Which is why the classic motto for the Presbyterian Church is: “The church reformed, always being reformed by the Word of God, in the power of the Spirit.”

We’ve been changing our minds for a long, long time, thank God, as we keep trying to get it right. To correct how too often we love wrongly. We are a work in progress.


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