Summary: A sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, proper 21, series A. The Parable of the Two Sons
20the Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 21] September 28, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, You sent your Son, Jesus the Christ, into our world to reveal your will for our lives and to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to acknowledge the authority of your living Word, and to repent of our sins, that we might know the joy and peace of your redeeming grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning confronts us with what has become known as the “Parable of the Two Sons,” and the context in which Jesus told it. So let us first look at the situation that inspired this story of the two sons.
According to Matthew, Jesus had just entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey to the shouts of “Hosannas.” We’ve come to refer to that day as Palm Sunday. But Matthew also tells us that not all of the people in Jerusalem understood the significance of this event. In fact, Matthew states, “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’”
And the first thing that Jesus does when he arrives at the Temple, is to cleanse it – to throw out the money changers and merchants, saying “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
So, is it any wonder, that a day or so later, “when Jesus entered the Temple again, the chief priest and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’”
After all, if someone paraded into our parking lot, amidst the cheers of a crowd on a Sunday morning, and then came into our nave and started to up-end tables and disrupt our services, I’m sure that your pastor and your council would be equally concerned. And I could just picture myself asking “Who gives you the authority to do this?” Although I may not be so polite in my use of words, I would want to know what was behind that action.
But Jesus doesn’t answer their question, at least not directly. Rather, he said, “I’m going to ask you a question and if you can answer my question, I will answer yours.” Of course, it proved to be an impossible question for them to answer, for it had to do with the authority by which John the Baptist conducted his ministry.
So they discussed among themselves, If we say, that John received his authority for his ministry of baptism for repentance from heaven, then Jesus will say to us, “Why didn’t you believe him.” With this first thought comes the idea that those who questioned Jesus, did not feel that they needed to embrace John’s message of repentance, or be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.
On the other hand, if they answered that John’s authority was of human origin, hey were afraid that all those persons who had repented of their sins, and found new life in relationship with God, would revolt. And the religious leaders of the people certainly didn’t want to contribute to breakdown of the moral fabric of their society. And so they couldn’t answer Jesus, even though they still questioned not only the authority of John the Baptist, but also the authority of Jesus.
And so, Jesus tells them this parable, and he begins with these words: “What do you think?” To summarize the parable, Jesus tells us that a father asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. The one sons “No” to his father, but later goes and does what his father asked. The other son said “Yes, sir,” addressing his father with respect, but did not do as his father asked. And then Jesus asked, “Which of the two sons did the will of his father?”
Now, it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to figure out the obvious answer to this story. The son that did the will of his father was the son that originally said he would not obey his father’s wishes, but later repented and went to work in the vineyard. But like all of Jesus’ parables, the truth of his message is often more difficult to ascertain, than the obvious answer. As Bernard Brandon Scott pointed out in his book, Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables, [Fortress Press, 1989] this parable is not so simple. The truth is, in the society of Jesus day, honor of parents and elders was expected, and if you did not show honor, it was shameful. As a result, both of the Father’s sons sinned! They both brought shame upon their father, the first son by disrespecting his father’s request and saying “I will not.”