Summary: A man had two sons, and I bet he wished he’d had more daughters! ...
Jesus said "What do you think? A man had two sons; he 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. Which of the two did the will of his father?"
My friend Kon used to say ’the more I see of kids today, the more I think about getting a dog’. Then he had a son. He doesn’t say that quite as much any more. His other great saying was ’I love children, but I can never finish a whole one’. He doesn’t say that much any more either. He might think it sometimes. I don’t know.
I’m told that insanity is something that you inherit from your children, instead of the other way around. And I read in the paper all the time about how it just costs too much to have children, which is ironic, because people in poorer countries seem to manage with lots of children.
The thing I really don’t understand though is why, when there are so many complaints about children and about having children, that people keep having them. Perhaps it’s because everyone quietly believes that their kids are going to turn out just perfect, like mine have (well, I suppose I’m biased).
The truth is that sooner or later most of us parents do strike the sort of attitude we find in today’s parable, where you ask your son ’hey son, how’s about helping dad out by washing the car this weekend’ and the boy looks up at you and says ’get stuffed’. And so you make the same request of his younger brother, and he says ’Yeah, no problem dad. I’ll be right on to it. Don’t you worry.’ But come Monday morning the car is as dirty as ever and the young guy is nowhere to be found.
Then, lo and behold, you get home in the afternoon and it has been done (by son no.1 as it turns out). He felt bad about speaking to you like he did, and was a bit fearful of the consequences, so he did it on the quiet, and he was going to get around to apologising to you too and talking it through with you, but he thought he might not worry about that just at the moment. And so life in the average Australian dysfunctional home continues on as usual…
My point is that neither of these two sons is anything to crow about. That’s true enough when you transplant the parable into our own culture. It is even more obvious in a Middle Eastern context, where saying ’no’ when your father asks you for help is like telling him to drop dead! There’s nothing particularly impressive about either son.
So Jesus does not ask ’which of the two boys was a good son to his dad?’ because neither of them is particularly impressive. Instead He asks ’which of these two did the will of his father?’ and it is clear enough that this has to be the first son, who is considered to be the better of the two by Jesus.
Jesus then says ’Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you Pharisees and religious people’, which suggests to us that Jesus believes that saying the right thing and sounding right is less important than doing the right thing and acting right.
Let’s pause there for a moment, because this is not something that we should just brush over as if we all already knew that. The truth is that most people think that being a Christian is all about what you think. Christianity is a philosophy of life - a series of beliefs about life, death and the universe.
I’m always talking to people and inviting them to church, and the standard response I get is ’Oh, I don’t believe in any of that’. Others say things like ’I used to believe all that stuff when I was a kid but now I believe in evolution.’
Conversely, I suspect that if we ask the average person in the church what it is that makes them a Christian, I think that they will also answer in terms of their beliefs - ’that I still believe what I was told as a kid and that I don’t believe in evolution’. In a Sydney Anglican context of course we might expect that those beliefs would be spelled out a little more succinctly:
* I believe that I am a sinner, and as such stand under the judgement of God.
* I believe that Jesus died for my sins, taking my place upon the cross.