Signposts: Daily Devotions

Saturday, September 27

Jesus said, “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 he 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?”
—Matthew 21: 28-31a

Jesus tells this parable to religious leaders in the first century, but it is a powerful caution today. The answer to Jesus’ question is, of course, that the first son did the will of his father. He said no, but changed his mind and went into the vineyard, while the second son agreed to go, but didn’t.

Barbara Brown Taylor’s brilliant sermon on this text is called “The Yes and No Brothers.” It is painful to read, because she nails those of us who believe the “right” things, say the creeds without crossing our fingers, and show up whenever the church doors open, but may not act on what we say.

As Barbara Taylor says, many of us “unconsciously substitute our beliefs about God for our obedience to God….There is not a creed or a mission statement in the world that is worth one visit to a sick friend, or one cup of water to someone who is longing for it.” Whew.

Jesus told this parable to people who, like us, are probably unconscious of how other things have interfered with a relationship with God. Religious institutions need leadership, but when we choose committee meetings over visiting sick friends, or calling a church list instead of lonely family members, then we’ve got the wrong slant on being people of God.

Sometimes, life is so overwhelming that it’s all we can do to get out of bed each morning. We should honor those times and not push ourselves to the breaking point. But if you are like me, there are some choices about how I use my time that I need to examine in the light of this parable. I am grateful for such a sharp reminder that we are called to love God, not only with our lips, but in our lives, always.

The Prayer of St. Catherine’s School, Richmond, Virginia:

Help us, O God, to remember, through the example of Jesus Christ, that what we keep we lose and only what we give remains our own. Amen.

The Signposts for September are written by Margaret Jones and originally appeared on explorefaith in 2005.