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. . .
The use of the English word belief in all its variations in the New Testament is confusing, and quite frankly, I’m not exactly sure why a scholarly translation such as the New Revised Standard Version that we use in church, continues to use believe, when it is almost universally understood that the verb to trust is so much closer to the real meaning.
When I say to my congregation, I believe in the Vestry of our Church.I’m not saying I believe in any particular person or that I believe all nine members exist. I think that goes without saying.
I mean I TRUST those nine persons to have the best interests of the church, in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, always at the forefront of their deliberations and their final decisions. Their decisions may not be universally well-liked all of the time, but just think if they weren’t trying.
After Jesus tells the parable of the two naughty boys, he asks which one did the will of the father? And what is the will of the Father? I’m so glad you asked.
It’s not to go out and get as busy as you can in God’s vineyard. It’s God’s will that we simply trust. It’s best outlined in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John where Jesus says, and I’m paraphrasing for purposes of emphasizing, And this is the will of God, that everyone who sees me, believes in me and trusts in me, will have everlasting life.
It’s over-simplified to make this parable out to be about good works. Most of the time we read this parable and we want to say, Actions do speak louder than words. In addition, I don’t think it’s not about one son being better than another. Neither of those ideas really get to the heart of this parable.
When the priests and the elders said the first son, who ended up doing his good works, was the one who did the father’s will, Jesus didn’t say,Go and do likewise. He said, Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
Why? Because when the utterly despised tax collectors and the soon-to-be stoned prostitutes came to Jesus, the only thing they brought with them was their trust in his Grace. They didn’t have anything else, certainly not their dignity or their self-respect.
It’s not an accident that Jesus had these two sons being asked to go into their father’s vineyard in this parable. It’s reminiscent of last week; it’s a follow up to the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.
Jesus knows we’re still not quite right with the outcome of the Laborers in the Vineyard from last week. He knows that we are still grumbling, however quietly, about Free Grace.
We pay lip service to it, but we haven’t really warmed up to it much, have we? I mean it lets the spoiled rotten son into the salvation circle right at the front of the line, where I, who have logged in all these volunteer hours doing nothing but good, am supposed to stand.
Do you know how you can tell if an action is truly gracious or not? If it’s truly gracious, most people will dislike it intensely.
The first son said, no, but finally came to trust like the prostitutes and tax collectors who finally came, even if at the last hour, to trust in Christ.
Repentance can’t always undo the harm that may have been done to others, but it’s always healing.
The second son said yes. He’s like the laborers who worked all day in the vineyard last week. They didn’t realize that grace can’t be cheap because it’s free!
The second son couldn’t trust in a system that would reward his good-for-nothing brother who never got his work done.
And here we are, more than two-thousand years later still pondering this idea of free grace.
Christians have this sacrament called Baptism. As part of the ritual surrounding this sacrament of Baptism, candidates are asked the following questions:
—- Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
—- Do you put your whole trust in His grace and love?
In answering these two questions, it is our chance to say YES to the Father’s will, and to come to him initially with a child-like trust.
Later in the service the candidates are asked:
—- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
—- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Answering yes is our chance to promise to actually go into the vineyard; to work for no reward except for the fact that we get an opportunity to say, thank you, because we don’t know what else we can say or do before a God of such love and graciousness.