A Meditation on Matthew 21:28-32
by Rev. Dr. Daniel Thomas, Montreal, Canada Gospel: St. Matthew 21: 28-32 The priests and the elders of the Jews questioned Jesus as to on what authority he was doing all these things. Instead of giving an answer Jesus asked them a question which they did not want to answer. In that context Jesus told them the parable of two sons, which can be paraphrased as follows. Once a father asked his older son to go and do a day's work in the vineyard. The son flatly and discourteously refused. Later he changed his mind and went to the vineyard and worked. The father approached the younger son with the same request. He very politely agreed to go but he went away and did nothing about it. Jesus asked "Which of these sons really did the will of his father?" they answered the elder son. Then he told the priests and the Pharisees that the prostitutes and the tax collectors would enter the kingdom of God ahead of them. The meaning of this story is crystal clear. The first son stands for the tax collectors and sinners. Their lifestyle looked like a blunt refusal to have anything to do with religion or God; and yet when Jesus came they listened to him and changed their way of life to fit to His message and meet his demands. The second son stands for the priests, scribes, and Pharisees. They had only one profession in their lives that they would serve God and obey his commandments; and yet when the Son of God came they completely ignored Him and in the end they crucified Him. This parable brings out a profound truth that words can never take the place of deeds. There is a difference in the way the two sons responded to their father's request. The first son answers with almost contemptuous bluntness. On the other hand the second son says all things with great respect and politeness and he even adds "sir" at the end of every sentence. But neither the verbal courtesy, nor the politeness could take the place of deeds. It is true that only through deeds we can prove that we really love someone. The earliest name for Christianity was "The Way" as it is mentioned in the book of Acts (9:2). It was never simply learning catechism on the faith or reciting certain creeds but it was a way of life shown by deeds, which proved the loyalty to the faith. Dedicated members of early Christianity were ready even to sacrifice their own lives to prove their loyalty to and love for Christ. The two sons in the parable symbolically represent two different kinds of people. There have always been people whose words said one thing and their lives showed something else. Henry Drummond, a missionary, described his experience with a group of young people at a street corner in London, England. Those young people had never gone to church and they were very active members of an atheist club. While Henry Drummond was talking to those young people, one of the leading elders of the local church passed by and one of the young men said, " That man is the founder of our Atheist club ". That was a surprise to Henry Drummond. He asked in astonishment, "How can that be? That man is one of the strong pillars of the local church." One of the young men said, " That is the very reason why we keep away from that church. If a man who lives such a duplicitous life is the leading elder of that church, we want nothing to do with that church. That kind of leader does the greatest possible harm to the church and to the cause of Christ. The greatest liability the church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians. It is true that our everyday lives either attract or repel people from Christianity. Once a young man said to a great Christian preacher who used to teach finest things but did not live them, " I cannot hear what you say for listening to what you are". If one does not practice what one teaches, no matter, whether he is clergy or layman, will do infinite harm to Christ and his church. There are good Christians outside the church as there are inside. We cannot deny the fact that there are good people outside the church. Mahatma Gandhi was an outstanding example. Though he was a Hindu, he literally practiced all the teachings of Jesus in his life. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of his sermons said, " More than anybody else in the modern world, Gandhi had caught the spirit of Jesus Christ and lived it more completely in his life." Referring to Gandhi, as one of Jesus' "other sheep," he observed that "it is one of the strange ironies of the modern world that the greatest Christian of the twentieth century was not a member of the Christian church." (Palm Sunday sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Ala on 22nd March, 1959) Once Dr. Stanley Jones, the well known missionary, who lived and worked in India for several years, said at the Maramon Convention that Gandhi was a true Christian. He also said," I am not very keen on going to a heaven where Gandhi is absent." The traditional Christians of Kozhencherry and Maramon could not agree with the statement of Dr. Stanley Jones. No Christian would want to deny it for it is clearly mentioned in the Bible. "The true light enlightens every man." (St. John 1:9) In our own local community we may see many people like the first son in the parable whose practice is better than what they profess. They would be better still if they openly admitted where the loyalty of their hearts really lies. When we do an objective evaluation of both of those young people of the parable, we naturally come to the conclusion that neither one of them is ideal. Everyone of us would say that the first son is better than the second. But neither one was perfect. The first son would have been a perfect man if he could say "yes" to his father with courage and then go and do the work in the vineyard with fidelity. But both sons in the parable hurt their father's heart. A perfect son brings joy to his father and that son always will be listening to his father's requests and gladly obeying them. May God Almighty shower upon us His grace in abundance.
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