A Cycle – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
Mt. 21: 28-32
Jesus was not asking the Chief Priest and the elders a trick question. No, it was a simple one and of course it is hard to disagree with their response about which son sinned against his father. But after they responded correctly what he said next should give us all a reason to consider the real point Jesus was going to make after they answered the question. His response was pointed and direct. He was telling them and us we are not doing God’s will if we do not respond to words God sent us through the prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus.
Just consider how John the Baptist was treated by the Pharisees. John was called a demon by the Pharisee’s (Lk. 7:33). He was scoffed at as he told them they needed to repent. Their response to Jesus was the same as their response to John – they disregarded the call to repent for they considered themselves righteous. They ignored the call of God to examine their understanding of what is most pleasing to God. Yes, they understood God wants obedience from us, but obedience is not the only measure of what pleases God. Yet, to the Pharisees it was the only measure of obedience.
The point Jesus was driving at by telling this parable was to open their minds to understand what God requires from all who profess him as Lord is by believing in and acting on his promises. We cannot gain salvation by our strict adherence to the law for it is a gift given to us by a loving God.
This gospel is telling us we are guilty of that same kind of thinking. Instead of responding to God’s invitation to follow him we follow rules, laws, and rituals which we believe define holiness or keeping us from displeasing God. Living life as a disciple is not as clear and that is why we find comfort in following the laws and rituals. Following Jesus as a disciple is filled with challenges which often demand of us a great deal of trust in God. Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God. But our actions are often an indication we are not seeking the Kingdom of God on earth and learning how to respond to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is a huge difference between following the law which only requires us to be disciplined and following the path God desires us to follow. The key difference is one we depend on ourselves and the other we must have an absolute trust in God.
The Pharisees certainly did not believe they needed Jesus or John to tell them what God demanded of them because they believed they were pleasing to God. Even the repeated chastisement of them by John the Baptist and Jesus did not cause them to see how they were being as disobedient as that son in the parable. If you read the scriptures much of what Jesus did was always directed at challenging the disciples to trust in Him. Feed them yourselves, come to me on the water, go and heal the sick but take no food, money, or extra clothing with you. The message cannot be any clearer, trust in God and not yourself. Anything else, Jesus is telling us is arrogance and disobedience.
This parable is pointing out the fallacy of believing all we need to do is follow the minimum requirement of following the law. Obedience to the law is where we all begin our spiritual journey. But if we never move from that defining our type of spirituality we will miss out on living in the Kingdom of God. Think about how we raise our children in obedience to our moral code. We teach them first to follow the laws of our household. As they age those laws get redefined and expanded to include things that are less measured by strict boundaries and more by a moral code. For instance, we expect them to “respect others.”
That is a broad expectation that defines how we treat others but at the same time is not defined by hard fast do’s and don’ts. Well God desires to move us from training wheels to walk by faith not by depending on something artificial to guide us. Loving God and loving neighbor are not easy under those guidelines. Gods desire is for our hearts to be centered on him and our sacrifices are only a part of that. We make the mistake of putting our sacrifices into a category of pleasing God and they should just flow from a heart that is in love with God.
That desire is at the heart of this parable. When we are living our lives as disciples, the Spirit will move within us convicting us each time we fail to do God’s will. We can like the prodigal, stray from the kingdom for a while but the lesson God taught us is we can always return knowing we will be embraced.
This parable is showing us we frequently fail to listen and believe in his promises. Most of us have been lulled into a faith that is measured by doing things we define as acceptable behavior for a believer. Well God is telling us is there are times when we are stubborn and fail to do something which is expected of us as disciples. Jesus tells us it is what comes out of our hearts which is sin (Mt. 15:18). The truth is it is easy to just be obedient to the laws, however we redefine the intent of the law to suit ourselves.
The law which the Spirit writes on our hearts allows no room for redefining God’s expectations. If we fail to understand that then we are the son who says yes and then fails to do the will of the Father.