Matthew 21:23-32 (September 28, 2008)
I don't know that I've ever preached on this text before. As it so happens, because I'm doing a special series right now based on my congregation's mission statement, I won't be preaching on it this year. However, some time ago I said "yes" when asked if I would prepare some comments for this week, and I've learned that it's important to honor one's commitments....
Two sons were told by their father that there was work to be done. One refuses to work, but later changes his mind. The other says "OK, I'll do it," but then does not go.
In looking through various online commentaries and sermons, I find that many preachers ignore the original context. The son who says he'll go but then changes his mind represents the religious leaders of Jesus' day. They said they'd follow, but their actions have not backed up their words.
I think I've skipped preaching on this for two reasons: one, I didn't want to risk making it sound as if Jesus' harsh words toward the religious leaders should be directed at all Jews. It would take some work to explain this in a way that adequately portrays the context as well as being appropriate to the gospel. And second, the basic idea of the parable--that words are meaningless if they're inconsistent with one's actions--seems so simple, like something a parent tells a young child, that it would be insulting to preach this to a congregation.
And yet, people do often say one thing and then do another. "Who will help out at the church workday?" Fifteen hands go up, but when the work day arrives, only three are present. What happened to the other twelve? They said they'd be there. Where are they?
Words are important. Or at least, they should be. And yes, it is a lesson that parents teach their children. I tell my own sons to do something. I tell them repeatedly. "OK, Dad!" But it doesn't get done. They call each other names, and when upset, will even yell, "I hate you!" Do they mean it? Not really. Yet they need to realize that words have power. In this case, the power to hurt.
But it's not just children who need that message. I admit, I was tempted to send in a note saying, "I'm taking a brief break from the lectionary and so am unable to post on the blog this week." Wouldn't that have been ironic?
"Yes, I'll go do the work." "Yes, Jesus, I'll follow you." Those are powerful words. But they become meaningless if they are inconsistent with one's actions.
More on this theme can be found in a previous post by Dan Mayes here.