Summary: One son says he’ll do the work, and doesn’t. Another says he won’t do the work, and does. Which one best describes us? And is there a third option?
Growing up, I was a huge fan of the University of Kentucky basketball. I still follow them closely, but nothing like when I was younger. I idolized their players, I knew all their stats, I watched their games on TV like it was a life or death struggle. My favorite player when I was in third grade was Kyle Macy, and I proclaimed myself his younger brother, even if he didn’t know it.
One day, I was shooting baskets at a local playground when a high school boy came over to shoot with me. We started talking, and as my conversations usually went, within ten seconds I was telling him how much I loved the Kentucky Wildcats and Kyle Macy.
“Really?” he said. “I know Kyle Macy.”
“YOU know KYLE MACY!” I said, not believing my luck.
“Yeah, I sure do. In fact, I’ve got some of his autographs at home,” he said nonchalantly.
“Yeah. Would you like one?”
“OK, I know your house. I’ll put one in your mailbox later tonight, and it will be there when you wake up in the morning.”
“Cool!” I said, and ran home to tell my mom of this divinely-directed meeting I’d just had.
After a restless night of sleep that would put Christmas Eve to shame, I jumped up out of bed and ran to the mailbox, knocking over tables and various elderly relatives to get to my Holy Grail. And, of course, when I got there, the mailbox was empty. Nothing hurts like a broken promise.
Unfortunately, we experience them all too often today, so often that maybe we’re used to broken promises. Advertisers bombard us with new and improved products that scored astronomically high on taste tests or are recommended by leading doctors or are guaranteed to get that stain out. Politicians are experts at broken promises, from 40 acres and a mule to “I am not a crook” to “I didn’t inhale.”
Promise-breaking has even become the standard for some of our kids. They promise to do their chores or to be home by 11 p.m. or to try harder in school or to stop putting peas up their little brother’s nose…and sometimes they do what they say, but too many times they don’t.
I bet some of us here are even guilty of breaking promises. I’ll call you back. The check is in the mail. We’ll get together soon. I’ll take care of it. We may have good intentions to keep our promises, but sometimes it’s so much easier to say “yes” and get that person off the phone, even when we really want to say “no” or “I don’t want to.”
What’s harder? Telling someone “no,” or telling someone “yes” but then not following through? That’s the dilemma Jesus creates in his parable this morning. The father asks his children to go and work in the vineyard harvesting grapes. The first son says “no,” dishonoring his father in public, even though he changes his mind later. The second sons politely says, “yes,” but then doesn’t do what he says. Even though the Pharisees say the son who eventually goes to the vineyard is the better of the two, I don’t think either of them deserve any awards. Both are guilty of faulty allegiance. The one son dishonors his father, the other son is disobedient. Doesn’t it make you feel better knowing that 1st century parents had to put up with the same stuff you do?
Like most of Jesus’ parables, this story isn’t really about the two boys. It’s about you and me. It’s about two kinds of people in this world. The one kind professes faith in God, but doesn’t live a faithful life. The other does the will of God while saying “no” to belief in God.
I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life when I’ve uttered nice, pious words about God but showed unbelief through my actions. And there was a time in my life when I wanted nothing to do with God, but tried to live my life with as much integrity and goodness as possible.
When I was studying Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University, I took a class called Diffusion of Innovations, which is just a fancy way of saying the class was about how new ideas get out and get accepted. For example, when the microwave oven was first available, you had the early adapters who bought them right away, then the middle adapters who waited a little while before getting one, then the late adapters who were even more cautious and waited several years before getting one.
And then you had the last group, the group that refused to accept the new idea until they didn’t have a choice. That group was called the “laggards.” The laggards were the ones who said indoor plumbing would never work, or that airplanes were too dangerous, or that cars were a fad. Laggards say you don’t need an answering machine; if it’s important enough, they’ll call back. Laggards think home computers are finicky contraptions that waste time and money…OK, sometimes they’re right. Laggards simply refuse to go with the flow, no matter how useful and obvious the new innovation is.