Summary: For the answer, you'll have to read to the end of the sermon.
A question to ponder - “How do Gyms make their money?” We’ll come back to that….
Children - Have you have you ever gone up to your mum or dad and gone “Can we go to Disneyland this year?” “Can we go to the new film that’s out this weekend” “Can we get a PS” - and you get the reply “We’ll see…” when they want to get you off their back but what they actually mean is …. [NO]
Parents - Have you asked “Darling will you tidy your room”? “Yeah … later!” when they want to get you off their back but what they actually mean is …. [NO]
I’d like your opinion. I called a couple of mechanics to take a look at my car. The first man I talked to was very rude. He said he had no time for me and hung up while I was still holding the phone to my ear. You can imagine my surprise then when later that afternoon this same mechanic showed up at my door and spent an hour inspecting my car before giving me an estimate for what it would cost to repair. Before he arrived, however, I had called another mechanic and asked him to look at my car. This mechanic was very cheerful and promised to come out that afternoon. Well, that was three days ago and he still hasn’t come. What should I do? Which mechanic should I use to fix my car? Should I go with the one who was rude but still took the time to give me an estimate, or should I wait for the cheerful mechanic to show up?(1)
Jesus, when asked a question has a habit when asked a question of either responding with another question or with a story. And here in today's reading, when the Pharisees ask him a question “by what authority do these things” he responds both with a question and with a story.
A question about John the Baptist - "where did his authority come from?" The pharisees know the implications of both possible answers - If they say from human beings they will lose any authority they might have with the common people who loved John. There might even be a riot. But if they say “from God” “well, he’ll say ‘Why then didn’t you believe him?’”
So in the spirit of “We’ll see”; “Yeah, later”; - they dodge answering…
“Then neither shall you know where my authority comes from” And then Jesus tells a story
I am told that in certain oriental cultures it is considered rude to publicly disagree with someone, which can cause great problems for western businessmen negotiating in such climates, because their clients in that country will appear to agree to things they had no intention of fulfilling but they didn’t want to appear rude….
The Pharisees don’t want to upset people by saying that John the Baptist isn’t from God, but neither do they want to agree to the challenging lifestyle choices that John the Baptist presented them with (because it’s all too hard) so like the parent who doesn’t want to take the family to Disneyland but really doesn’t want an argument now at 9 o clock at night, they dodge answering the question.
And so Jesus tells a story about two sons - The father “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.” (Matt 21:28-30)
Now this sounds like my story of the two car mechanics - except it is worse. Because in a first century Palestinian culture - you didn’t openly disobey your father.We need “to understand just how shocking the behaviour of the first son is. We may not feel it to be so, but Jesus's hearers certainly would have done. 'Honour thy father and thy mother' would have made speaking directly against your father's request impossible in Jewish society of the time (or indeed, most societies of the not-too-distant past).
The first son does something awful – he rejects the command of his father to his face – but he comes around and does the right thing and goes. He's the one who does his father's will, even though the way he has behaved was quite wrong at first.”(2)
So in this way - Jesus’s comparison with tax collectors and prostitutes would have resonated with his hearers. The first Son had done a terrible thing in rejecting his father, but now changes his mind and does the right thing. So too Tax Collectors and Prostitutes are have done a terrible thing in rejecting God’s commandments by their lifestyle, yet when John came they responded by repenting.