September 27, 2020
The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
(Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32)
A teenage daughter said she was staying out late and not to expect her home until midnight. Her parents told her to be home by ten to which she replied, ‘Whatever.’ Later that night, around five minutes to ten, she came home. The parents were a bit puzzled and said, ‘Home already?’ She replied, ‘Well you said be home by ten.’ There is a difference between saying and doing, as reflected in today's Gospel.
Our Gospel reading today reminds me of our dear deacon. Lots of talk and promises; little follow through. Not intentionally, unlike our Gospel, of course. We all know he is a little spaz, but we love him anyway. Sometimes, we make promises, but the busyness of the day gets the better of us and we simply forget. No bad intentions. Life just happens. But on a serious note, what did Jesus have in mind in His parable today?
With today's Gospel we enter the last week of Jesus' earthly life as he speaks with his disciples, preaches to the crowds, and spars with the chief priests and elders. These events take place in Jerusalem and the surrounding area just before and during the feast of Passover. Today Jesus confronts the chief priests and elders about their inability to change their position even after hearing the preaching of John the Baptist. By remaining entrenched in their own way of doing things, they are missing the work of God in their midst. It seems there is good news in today's parable as well, however, even if one originally refuses a request of God, there's still time to turn to Him and do what is just.
Today's parable about the two sons should make us all squirm a little. How many times have we found it easier to tell someone what he or she wanted to hear with no intention of following through rather than entering into a difficult conversation? We could think of tired parents who tell her child, “I'll play with you after dinner,” only to have that time come and be ready with another excuse. Or children who promised to clean their room, never intending to keep their word and hoping their parents will become distracted by something else.
In today's Gospel there are two sons and neither is perfect. One refuses his father's request but then does it; the other accepts the request but doesn't follow through. In the end, it seems that virtuous actions are more important than virtuous words. In our daily lives people make many requests of us. Some are important, and others we could probably politely refuse. One meaning for today's parable might be the importance of knowing our limits and being honest about what we can and cannot (or will and will not) do.
The parable points to something else though - our relationship with God and our commitment to the life of discipleship. God has asked us to work in his vineyard caring for the poor, working for Justice, and bringing peace to others. As Christians, we are called to love God and others, not simply through the words we say, but more importantly, in the ways we give of ourselves for the good of all.
The first son, who rudely tells his father he doesn't feel like working today, but then does after all, stands for the tax collectors and the prostitutes. Their daily life seemed to be saying ‘no’ to God; but when they heard John they changed their mind and their lifestyle (in other words, they ‘repented’). The second son, who politely tells his father he will indeed go to work, but then doesn't, stands for the Temple hierarchy and other leaders. They look as though they’re doing God's will, worshiping in the Temple and keeping up appearances; but they refused to believe in John's message, not only about repentance but also about the Messiah who was standing unknown in their midst. Now the Messiah Himself is here to call them to account. Not surprisingly, they don’t like it.
The challenge of this passage for today is partly this; to make sure we are responding to Jesus, allowing Him to confront us at any point where we have been like the second son and said ‘yes’ to God while in fact going off in another direction. That's important, but it's not the only important thing. What we should also be asking is this. What should Jesus' followers be doing today that would challenge the powers of the present world with the news that He is indeed its rightful Lord? What should we be doing that would make people ask, ‘By what right are you doing that?’, to which the proper answer would be to tell stories of Jesus Himself. By Jesus’ teaching and example we do these things!
The parable Jesus utters today is in the Jerusalem Temple in the context of a dialogue, or verbal jousting match really, between Jesus and the chief priests and elders of the people. In the story we are approaching Holy Week, though liturgically we are still in the time after Trinity. This section the Gospel is the first of three parables, which we will read in successive weeks.
We can understand this parable in numerous ways and this is precisely why the device of the parable is so effective as a teaching tool. One apparent meaning is a favorite Matthean theme of doing versus saying. Matthew’s contention throughout the Gospel is not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father, which is to act mercifully particularly to those in need.
It's unfortunate that throughout history even into the present day, there are many adherents of religion (this is not limited to Jews or Christians) who talk a good game, but their actions indicate something else. We have many phrases in English that speak to this: “Actions speak louder than words,” “By their actions you shall know them,” “I don't believe what you say. I believe what you do,” “People lie, actions don't.” All of these maxims get at one of the fundamental meanings of this parable. We seem to hear and see a lot of this in our own nation currently.
It is true our words and actions should match one another. But as Jesus makes clear, our actions - most especially how we care for those on the margins - matter much more than our good intentions.
However, not all intentions are bad. Have you ever met a flatterer or a people pleaser? Those who say what you want to hear but have no intention of following through? Or those who over-promise and under deliver? It can be a challenging to hear the words of Jesus in the parable today about such behaviors. Despite our best intentions, it is our actions that truly mean more than words. Without actions, our words are a “clanging gong,” to use a term of Saint Paul. There are many reasons why we might over promise, but we reminded of another saying in the Gospels: “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ At some level this is simply good advice from Jesus the teacher.
As we go about our lives let us make an effort to think carefully before we commit ourselves or say we will do something. Simply modifying a comment with the words “I intend to …” or “I’ll make my best effort to …” may be all we need to temper expectations. By avoiding the trap of being people pleaser, or flatterer, or one who over-promises, and instead of being a person of action and doing on behalf of others, we will be living the Gospel.
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus makes it clear that we are judged by our actions rather than by our words. We pray that we may show our faith and love of Christ by being generous and unselfish on behalf of others, particularly the poor, the homeless and marginalized. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for a greater sharing of the wealth of the world, so that those suffering from poverty and hunger may also enjoy the fruits bestowed on us by our Loving Father. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for refugees and all those who flee war, hunger and poverty that they may travel safely and be received generously by those who are blessed with peace, prosperity and a better life. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who have suffered the trauma of abuse. May they experience healing in their lives, and grow in self-esteem and confidence in others. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those with the responsibility of protecting our children and vulnerable adults. We pray that they have the full support of government, church and community in their most important mission. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for international co-operation and an effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic and for a common effort to find vaccines and extend their benefits to all. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that our legislators will govern with pure motives and pure hearts and follow the needs of their constituents and not that of their own. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick, for all who are on the frontlines of this COVID-19 pandemic, especially our health care workers and first responders, for all who are unable to stay at home, but must work to provide for their families, may God continue to protect them and keep them in good health. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, help us to be people of actions and not just words. Help us to commit to what we can do and do what we commit to. Help us to be people who under-promise, but over-deliver. Help us to know our limits and be open about them. Especially show us how to be gracious but honest when we simply cannot act.
You, gracious God, are love itself, and perfect love casts out fear. Come to us in merciful patience, we pray, to love us from fear to trust, from anger to grace, from doubt to faith. Love us from our self-centeredness to hearts that willingly give themselves in selfless sacrifice and service. Love us out of our scarcity to hearts overflowing with generosity. Love us from brokenness to wholeness, from resentments and forgiveness withheld to forgiveness freely offered just as it has been freely offered to us. Come to us, Lord, overwhelming us with your love that we might love as you first loved us. Amen.
God Love You +++
++The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars – These turbulent times are economically difficult for many, and as such, non-profits see reductions of donations to keep ministries open. We ask, if you are able, to donate and help us keep our progressive voice active in our community. God Bless You +++