Summary: Parables for Stewards, Pt. 7
SOUR AND SWEET (MATTHEW 21:28-32)
More than a decade ago, Robert Haft trumpeted this famous commercial to financial success: “If you paid full price, you didn’t buy it at Crown Books.” Robert was the son and heir apparent of the Dart Group founder, Herbert Haft, who made his fortune in real estate and discount drugstores.
Offering discounts of 40%, Crown became a hit in the Washington, D.C. area and gained a national following as it expanded to the Midwest and the West. But the elder Haft touched off a family feud when he rescinded plans to turn the reigns at the parent company, Dart, over to his son Robert and fired him. Robert the son wanted for a more open attitude to investors and a faster accession to full power. The father dismissed Robert from the chairman of Crown, ignored a 10-year employment contract and suspended his $500,000 in salary and $250,000 in bonuses a year. The feud went public, and father and son became bitter enemies. Mom protested and was also fired, and later divorced.
In the meanwhile, no one was minding the store when Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon muscled into Crown’s market share in the early 1990s. Crown plunged from its peak of 240 stores in 1994 to its bankruptcy and liquidation in 2001.
The child-parent relationship is anything but predictable, easy and controllable, especially when the child has his own mind, tongue and freedom. Jesus compares the unexpected repentance and obedience of tax collectors and prostitutes at the preaching of the gospel and his teaching to a child’s “no, but yes” answer to His offer of salvation and the unusual resistance and opposition of the Pharisees to a “yeah, right!” attitude to the same offer.
Why is God gracious and merciful to sinners as well as saints? What are God’s terms of offer to believers and unbelievers alike?
You Can Be Silly and Sensitive, But Don’t Be Stubborn
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ’Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “’I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. (Matt 21:28-29)
When Doris and I studied this parable, the first thing she remarked was, “You are the Number 1 son!” That I am, so I treat him with kid’s gloves!
When she predicted that I would pursue another degree, I sneered, “Why do I need another degree when I have a Master of Theology degree? It is not going to make me serve any better!” Within a year, in 1997, I headed off for a Doctor of ministry degree. When I left Southern California then for Chicago’s Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I vouched that I would not be back. I would rather serve in the Midwest, the East, anywhere but the West. Six months later I returned to minister in Riverside, an hour east of Los Angeles. When she said I could open an e-mail account to write to her when I was away, again I resisted, but I did not want to offend or hurt her. In my heart, I protested, “Why in the world do people need to e-mail when they can talk by phone? It seems impersonal and insincere to me.”
Several months later, when she told me about the computer software “PC Study Bible” her brother-in-law was using, I blurted out, “Why on earth are people turning to computer software, and not their Bibles, to study the word of God?” Now I am its biggest fan and salesman and I have personally sold more than 50 copies to my preaching students in seminary. Finally, when she pestered me to join a fitness center, arguing that swimming could help strengthen my weak knees, I brushed it aside. Now she says I am obsessed with it!
The first son was not the type who liked to be told what to do and when to do things by whoever around, not even, or maybe especially, by his own parent. The child’s idleness and loafing around the house was not an option to the father, but getting the son to work was like pulling teeth. The father tried very hard not to make things harder or the situation more tense than it already was by giving his son a lot of leeway. He said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” The father did not order things done “right now,” “next hour,” “sometime soon” or “before long,” but “before closing.”
The child wasn’t furious but he was stubborn. The moment he heard the word “today,” he said defiantly in Greek, “Not I will.” Those two words “not” and “I will” are as defiant and as resolute a response as can be in the gospels. There is no precedent in the Bible for such a short and sharp reply in the same sentence construction. He didn’t care to argue, explain or delay. The message was clear: “I don’t care. Don’t bother me. Get someone else.”