Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 Psalm 25:1-9 Philippians 2:1-13 Matthew 21:23-32
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“By what authority are you doing these things ?” You of course noted that Jesus didn’t answer the question. Instead He pointed out the failure that many people have in understanding their world and what is going on around them and why they do things. It’s a common failing because first of all we are often too wrapped-up in ourselves and our own affairs to bother about others or question why we do things other than because we always have.
It’s a good question to ask ourselves. Why do we do stuff ? Often it’s on the authority of self-interest. If that is the case then self-interest has become our god. Often it’s on the authority of not causing trouble; a lie might be better than the truth; silence might be even better ! If that’s the case then a quiet life has become our god. Sometimes it’s taking or keeping stuff that is not ours, say taking advantage of someone’s mistake. If that’s the case then greed has become our god. Often it’s just taking the easy way, not standing up for what is right. If that’s the case then expedience has become our god.
It seems to me that the Pharisees were guilty of a few of those. Which gods have authority over each of us ? Maybe some of those I already mentioned. I’m sure we would all like to say that we live under the authority of only one God, Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but do we ? Jesus’ parable is apt. Neither of the two sons is perfect they are so much like each of us at various times. One son initially feels defiant and refuses to go to work but something gets to him and he does go to work after all. The other agrees to go and work for his dad, that’s the easy way, just to shut the old man up, but he has no intention of following through on it and he doesn’t. You may wonder why they chose those two different responses. The father was a landowner and therefore rich. Both sons probably resented being told to work. They were comfortable living at home, they were sons, they were not labourers living hand to mouth. So why work ? Why do as the old man says ? One day the place will be theirs and they definitely will not have to work and no one will be able to tell them to do so.
So then why did the father tell them to go work ? A number of reasons are available. He didn’t want to see them sit idly by wasting their lives, having dominion over the Earth doesn’t include sitting on your duff ! That seems very much like the second son’s outlook on life. Take the easy route. Maybe the father wanted them to learn the business; nothing like starting at the bottom to learn how to run the place, the first son may have realised that. He didn’t want to work but even more he did not want to lose what would be his inheritance. He might one day take over the whole business because his younger brother was a wastrel. So which one did the will of the father ? Obviously it was the one who understood the realities of life, the first son, who did what he was told to do.
Do we do what we are asked to do by our Father ? Well initially God said “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26b). Having dominion implies stewardship. Farmers own their land and all that is on it but they don’t leave it to run wild, they tend it and prepare it for its future use; they have dominion over it. Farmers thus operate under the authority of God. Son Number Two would have nothing to do with that; he even questions the Father’s authority to tell him what to do ! Where does God get His authority ? Well like the farmer He owns the place nurtures it but more than that He Created the place, and has plans for it. That’s enough authority in my books.
Because there are folks like Number One and Two sons God gave us a few rules to live by – the Ten Commandments. They say recognise that God is God, do not have other gods, don’t disparage God, give some of your time to God, respect your family, do no harm to others, be faithful to each other, do not take without being given, tell the truth and do not be envious. Then come Commandments Eleven and Twelve from Jesus – love God and love your neighbour.
If we simply make those Commandments the guide for our lives, that is, give them the authority they deserve, I guarantee we will live happy lives. And if anyone questions you by what authority you do things tell them outright by the authority that God has given you by creating you and by giving you the guidance to live a proper life. An analogy; most of us respect our parents, that’s the Fourth Commandment, we especially respect our mothers, who had a huge role in our creation. We generally listen to what mum said and remember the things she said our whole lives. Now it surely is not too great a leap to realise that God is the Creator of the entire universe, seen and unseen. If we do things because mum said so, how much more should we do things because God says so ? A million times more ? You bet ! I also bet that if the mother instead of the father had told each of the sons to go do an honest day’s work they both would have, right away. So under the authority of God let’s do what we are told. Because of Grace Number Two son is not doomed but how will he know that if we don’t tell him ? You surely have the authority to tell him, Jesus said to every one of us “Go  and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) ‘disciples’ includes both sons and us ! Obedience is not easy. Most of us wrestle with it from childhood but experience tells us obedience to a wiser person’s guidance is always best and there is none wiser than God. Today’s Gospel calls us to obedience as individuals, as a congregation, God asks us to work in His vineyard, say ‘yes’ and then do it because it is the better way, it will give us a new heart and a new spirit and we will already be citizens of the Kingdom. Amen.