Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The holy gospel according to St. Matthew 21:23-32

21:23 when he entered the temple, the chief priests 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?" 21:24 Jesus said to them, "i will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 21:25 did the baptism of john come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" and they argued with one another, "if we say, 'from heaven,' he will say to us, 'why then did you not believe him?' 21:26 but if we say, 'of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard john as a prophet." 21:27 so they answered jesus, "we do not know." and he said to them, "neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 21:28 "what do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 21:29 he answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. 21:30 the father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'i go, sir'; but he did not go. 21:31 which of the two did the will of his father?" they said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of god ahead of you. 21:32 for john came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

This is the gospel of the lord . . . praise to you O Christ.

Living in the "yes" of god's love

So who would you rather be in this story??? The one who says to the father (with complete self-confidence), "oh yea, sure – I'll go and work in the vineyard" . . . but the work does not get done. Or would you be like a "prostitute" or a "tax collector" who might say, "no way, I'm not changing my way of living . . . I've got a pretty good thing going on here!" but after thinking things over a few minutes . . . you conclude, "you know, I'm really miserable living this way – I think I would rather not continue going on through life being a tax collector or a prostitute. I have decided to give these aspects of who I have been to god . . . I am going to allow Jesus to live fully through me now, and I am going to do god's will for my life."

In the end it is simply about accepting god's love. The first son in Jesus' parable says "no". There could be any number of reasons why he says "no" to his father's request to go and work in the vineyard. It could be that it was too hot outside to work and that he did not want to get his new tunic dirty! Perhaps he is preoccupied with other interests in life: he is a daydreamer, he is considering starting up his own business, he has fallen in love with the new girl that moved into the hut next door or he has decided that he would rather talk on the cell phone than go out to work in the vineyard.

By saying "no" the first son in Jesus' story can maintain control of his destiny. Maybe we can even appreciate that a "no" has allowed for this boy to exercise his own will. By saying "no" he gets to experience being in power. When we say "no" to someone – we don't owe that person anything, we have no responsibilities to uphold and no obligations to fulfill.

Just saying "no" can keep us on our own path or track in life. Depending on the situation or what we are saying "no" to . . . this could be a good thing . . . or it could lead to a dull, self-centered life without challenge or personal growth.

Saying no keeps the ball in our court. Saying no entails no responsibility and no liability to anyone accept ourselves.

On the other hand, saying "yes" can present a threat to one's self-assertion, because when you say yes to a request, then you have an obligation to fulfill that request. In essence, in saying yes to another -- you have placed yourself into the trust of that other person.. . . that is, unless you don't really mean for your "yes" to be a true "yes."

If we say "yes" to a request by another person, such as the father in Jesus' parable, then not abiding by the terms of that "yes" -- sets up a condition by which our words have no basis in reality = or we might say that: there is no weight nor substance behind our words if we do not intend to fulfill the meaning of those words. Such as when the second son says, "yes father, I will go and work in the vineyard" . . . but he does not go.

In short, when someone says yes to something, but does not intend to carry out the meaning of that "yes," then we can say that "this person does not exist." Sure there is a body there, but the will or soul inside that body is non-existent. There is no will of the person to back up there word and therefore we can say that the person, him or herself, does not exist.

This is the condition of the second boy in Jesus' parable. The young man says yes to the father's request to go and work in the vineyard -- but he does not follow through bodily with his word.

Now, consider for a moment what that original "yes" meant to the father in Jesus' parable. It meant that necessary work was going to be accomplished in the vineyard: the grapes were going to get picked or the vines pruned in time before spring growth. But when the boy did not show up to work . . . his "yes" became an empty promise. There was no person existent in the words – no soul in that pledge, no embodiment, just an empty promise.

At this point perhaps you are catching my meaning. In fact, we have many clichés that speak to this human condition such as:

"The proof is in the pudding; a man is only as good as his word; actions speak louder than words; all talk–no acton; or: seeing is believing!!"

If we claim to be something that we are not, then maybe we really don't exist in what we claim. Oh sure, we may think to ourselves, "here I am, I exist!" and indeed you do exist -- to yourself!! But if you or I do not live out the existence that we profess, then are we existent in the profession that we make???

Here is the twist in this whole thing. If we are honest to ourselves, or more importantly, when we are honest before god about who we are and who we are not, then we must confess that we have said "yes" to god many times, but have not gone to work in god's vineyard.

This is why even the apostle Paul cried out at one point. "God help me, for I do not do the things that I want to do, instead I do just the opposite of what I should be doing for god. Oh wretched man that I am."

Paul had gotten a hold of the truth about himself. Here he we also must admit our failures and our inability to fulfill our "yes" before god.

Therefore, we cast ourselves upon god's mercy. And there is Jesus ready to pick us up. Confessed truly who he was–inadequate before almighty god. No longer able to live a lie (or, as a non-existent being before god), Paul tells god exactly who he is – a sinner. Unable to satisfy what the law of god demands, Paul admits his failure and he casts himself upon the mercy of god.

And here is Jesus -- ready to pick us up. Here is god's love that desires to embody us when we have come to realize that we are non-beings before god. Outside of Christ, we cannot exist before almighty god. Our will power will never satisfy god's righteous requirements. Our failures and false "yes's" condemn us time and time again. But thanks be to god for Jesus whose yes at the cross has made us a real people before god.

We who were once "no people" have become god's people who now stand whole and complete before god, because we are in the "yes" of the son.

This morning, make the recognition that you are nothing without the "yes" of Jesus love. For that is the yes that makes us complete before god. For every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is lord of all.

In the end it is simply about accepting god's yes in Jesus and living in that love.


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