Speaking wrong, yet doing right – Tuesday, 3rd Week of Advent /Zeph 3:1-2,9-13/Matthew 21:28-32
The text of today is a continuation of Jesus’ ‘holy week’ tryst in Jerusalem with the religious leaders. In many ways the text seems a bit odd and misplaced; almost like as if someone jumbled up the season of Advent with Lent. But looking at Matthew 21 we are drawn to some interesting insights into the whole point that Advent makes; will He find you doing his will when he comes again?
That readiness is seen in how we respond to the call of God. Jesus does this by engaging his audience and in engaging us. “What do you think?” (Verse 28) is the opening words of Jesus. He engages us not for an off the cuff opinion but is looking for a heartfelt response to a parable designed to evoke not just a verbal response but one that would move us to act on those words.
Placing this text in its context it become clear that Jesus has one agenda only; to take on the Jewish religious authorities who had questioned his authority. One verse earlier we read how he disregarded the question of the chief priest, no less! Now in order to make his point he subtly throws out a random opinion poll regarding the actions of the Jewish authorities, cleverly masquerading it in the form of a parable. The resulting answer was not short of a damning report of the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious authorities who have publicly promised to serve God, but in reality have failed to do this.
But while this parable can be effectively used to point a finger to a far-gone group of people who turned on Christ, it is meant to be timeless. In that, this parable is meant for us as an advent reflection. Two sons are asked to help out in the vineyard. One said no but eventually changed his mind. He spoke wrong, but did right. The second son said the right thing and for good measure also threw in a word of respect. Remember he addresses his father with respect (sir), but he did not do what he said he would.
Obviously, the opinion poll was unanimous. The one who did the will of his father, in this parable, was the one who spoke wrong and did right. Jesus then says the most amazing thing; tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom AHEAD of those who talk religion but don’t practice it. But the reason why they will enter first is not because they are tax collectors or prostitutes but because they were tax collectors and prostitutes who heard and believed John the Baptist. The did wrong but now walked right.
The word belief in Greeks indicates a faith that stems from the heart. There was a conversion of heart on the part of the tax collectors and sinners but not those who simply cried out Lord, Lord and did not do the will of the father. The point being made here should not be seen in superficial light as if all can go marching in. Heaven has its demands; repentance of sin tops that list. The message of Christ is universal, yet that message requires a response and the tax collectors and prostitutes responded in repentance.
There are many church goers that imitate the second son. They admit that the Word of God is true and intend to get serious about it someday. They talk about doing the Father’s work and even keep up the external appearance of religion, but their heart is not right with God. They think that words and promises are enough. What matters is living for God, not saying the right words.