Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which 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. 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.’
Today’s reading opens with Jesus still in conversation with the chief priests and elders in the Temple. Having spoken on the subject of authority, Jesus is now providing an example of how humanity responds to authority on a daily basis.
Human beings are fickle. Human beings, despite espousing the principles of democratic and representative government, spend a lot of their time complaining about the decisions made by their representatives. Human beings are constantly behaving in the way described in Jesus’ parable of the man and his two sons.
One of the ways in which try to assert our individuality is to behave exactly as the two sons described in today’s reading. We know, in our hearts, what we ought to do. We know that the responsible course of action in the vast majority of cases is to obey the law, and yet we pretend otherwise. Throughout the time of restrictions this year many people have complained to me about the limitations that have been imposed upon our churches. Those people know that what is happening is both responsible and legal. And yet, they complain. In some instances there is an active encouragement to ignore the regulations and return to ‘normality’. There is hardly ever a straightforward acceptance that ‘normality’ has changed. But … despite all the complaining and the encouraging of others to break the law … those people follow the decisions made by those in authority and who have the appropriate knowledge and experience. They are exactly like the son who says: I will not; but later changed his mind.
Of course, there also exists the group who are like the other son. They want to be seen as doing the ‘responsible’ thing. They say that they accept the authority and decisions of the government and its advisers but, in reality, they do not. These people are the ones who say the right things, who intend to do the right thing, but who cannot bear their own routines and practices being interrupted or changed. These are the people who demonstrate a careless lack of regard for the needs and vulnerability of others. For this group the primary focus is ‘self’.
In the time before Jesus’ ministry began, John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecies we read in Isaiah. He preached of the coming Messiah; he urged those who heard his message to repent and confess their sins; he made straight the pathway for our God. When Jesus taught and worked wondrous signs, he was trying to bring us closer to the Kingdom of God. Both John and Jesus shared one great message, the call for us all to demonstrate an authenticity in our faith. Doing the right thing, no matter what we have said beforehand is one thing, but declaring the rightness of God’s call, and then living it out for all to see, is another level of faith entirely.
Today we are called to set aside human pride and demonstrate our faithful commitment to God. No matter what life we have led to date, today we are called to change our minds and follow Jesus as he leads us on the path of righteousness.
If there is one word to describe what we need to consider today, it is ‘intention’. We are called to not only ‘intend’ to be a faithful and obedient disciple, we are called to live that life as well.