A sermon at St. Simeon’s Church, Bronx, NY, September 28, 2014
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 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?
Religious people always had trouble with Jesus. He was always disrupting their way of doing things, not letting the important people enjoy their importance, not letting the finicky fanatics lord it over simple folk who were less finicky or fanatical. He healed people without going through channels and he welcomed people who made the really pious people uncomfortable.
His entire life WAS and is, the mercy of God. He told of the welcome of God and the inclusion of everyone. And that just didn’t seem fair to the really religious people, especially the leaders: THEY wanted to have control, set the standards, and decide who measured up, and who just had to stay away.
So in this little confrontation, Jesus told a little story. I don’t know how many people here have had teenagers or perhaps taught them…? If you have, this story may sound familiar. Of course, it happens with others too—sometimes with husbands, sometimes co-workers… I know it happens when trying to recruit parish volunteers. 😉 So you ask, or even tell the person to do something and they say: No. With the teenagers, especially at that particular age of transition, that may be the entire response—actually sometimes you’re lucky if you get the whole word. Parish volunteers often have much more developed social skills and may explain why they MUST turn down the request—“I have to learn to say no” is my favorite. Of course the other side of the story are those that just say: YES. Maybe it’s the always-smiling volunteer—“Sure, I’ll take that on, you can count on me”, or the husband—“Yeah, I’ll take care of it”, or the teenager—“Yes. Mother.”
Have you ever experienced that? Those yesses end up meaning: “Oh, you mean you want it THIS month?” or “Just a minute.” or “I’ll get around to it dear.”
But sometimes, the ones who said no, think better of it, and make their bed, take out the trash, fix the broken window, or call some people and get a project organized.
I’ve seen both of these things happen. (My wife would tell you, that I’m that husband that says yes, dear, a little too often).
So, Jesus knows that the people that he was talking to have seen that, too. People are inclined to see the initial disobedience or obedience and make their judgment on that, and not realize that there is more to the story. How often do we judge people based on that first impression, or on things that we conclude about certain types of people?
It’s so easy for churches to set up profiles of people that they want, profiles of background, profiles of present or past behavior, profiles of appearance, and then to screen some profiles in. And some profiles…Out.
But Jesus says to that church: “Amen, I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God, ahead of you.” The tax collectors and the prostitutes were on opposite ends of the social spectrum but equally despised by the religious people of that time. Why are they going in ahead? Because they listened to the Gospel and believed although in some part of their lives they may have been saying, NO. But they responded to God’s mercy by accepting it, and extending it to others. Our entrance to the kingdom of God is in showing and giving that mercy to others, to all God’s people, which we have received from God already, which is why we are in this place.
There’s a prayer we all say in every service, and on our own—it is the Lord’s Prayer—and we pray: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Our being forgiven and welcomed by God is completely tied together with welcoming and forgiving others. Jesus leads us that way, every time we pray his prayer.
God is merciful to us—let us be merciful to one another.
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.