Updated: Sep 24, 2020
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Often in the Gospels we hear about Jesus having confrontations--difficult conversations--with the "chief priests and the elders of the people." Some of these people who study the Word of God and have the job of leading the people do not like having Jesus show up and begin teaching about the Kingdom. What makes him think he can say these things? They do not like his miracles, his "signs of the Kingdom," either. What makes him think he can do these things? In the Gospel this Sunday we hear about one of these confrontations right in the Temple itself, the most holy place in Israel.
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and challenged his authority.
The chief priests and elders want to know who Jesus thinks gives him the right to teach and the power to act. Whose authority is this? I suspect they think Jesus is giving himself the authority, that he is making things up because he wants power. I suspect they think there is something wrong with him.
Authority is an interesting word. In it, we can see the word "author." Usually we think of an author as someone who writes books. But there is another way of thinking about this word. Sometimes teachers will say, "you are the author of your own report card." The teachers write the report cards, but they are writing about the actions of the students. The actions of the students write the report card.
Sometimes we say that God is the author of the Bible. God did not pick up a pen and write the Bible, but people recorded the actions of God. Together, God and people "authored" the Bible. The people wrote with the authority of God. We thank God that they did, for now we have the Word of God.
Jesus tells the chief priests and the elders of the people this parable:
“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 am going, sir’; but he did not go. “Which of the two did the will of his father?”
Another vineyard parable! Once again, the landowner has work to be done in his vineyard. In this parable he is not hiring people; he is asking his own children to work. We can wonder under whose authority his children act. Who is the author of their actions?
The first son begins by saying he will not work. By whose authority does he say this? Not his father's. This is his own authority. He chooses to say this on his own. Later, he changes his mind and works. Now he does the will of the father. His will--what he wants to do--lines up exactly with what the father wants him to do. So who is the author of his actions? The son works under his father's authority, and with one will, together they write his actions.
The second son begins by saying he will work. By whose authority does he say this? This is not clear. Does he mean to work or is he lying? We do not know. What we know is that he does not end up working for his father. He does not do the will of the father. His will does not line up with what the father wants. So who is the author of his actions? He writes alone.
If we think of the vineyard as the Kingdom of God, who is doing the building? We know--and so do the chief priest and the elders--that it is the first son. This son does the will of the father, he works under the father's authority, even though at first he says he will not. This is Good News...I wonder, can you see how?
We can ask ourselves, which son am I like? We might think that if we are to be saints, we would speak like the second son and act like the first. Both our words and our actions would be under the authority of God. But we need to remember that even saints struggle.
Sometimes we are like the first son who says he will not work. It is good to know that if we at first turn away from what God wills, if we choose to author our life on our own, God will not take the work of building the Kingdom away from us. The first son gets to work even though at first he says he will not.
But what if we feel like the second son? What if we make resolutions each morning to do what is right, but each evening as we go to bed, we realize that we have turned away again? We say we will build the Kingdom together with God, but we let our own will take over. Our actions, written on our own without God, speak louder than words. Our actions say, like the first son, "I will not." What then?
The second son has become the first. And the first son, we know, changes his mind. So we, like the first son, can still change our mind and go to work for the Father. This is the Good News! God wants us working in the vineyard, and even if we go off on our own authority, God takes us back. There is still work to be done. God invites us, encourages us, allows us to come back to work building the Kingdom under God's authority. Our actions, together with God, author the next page in the History of the Kingdom of God.