Proper 21a – Sunday 25th September 2011
Matthew 21: 23-32
After a hard day at work there’s no better feeling than going home, hanging your shirt and tie up and putting your slobs on.
My slobs are a baggy t-shirt, a pair of lounge pants, and an old pair of trainers. They are essential items to help you relax and wind down after a busy day. They are ideal for enjoying a pleasant dinner and an evening in front of the television. They are so comfortable, I guess you could say they are like a second skin.
Of course, it’s all horses for courses. It’s called preparation. Getting your mind-set ready. Maybe even, getting into costume.
I enjoy going to the gym twice a week, and so the moment I tie the laces of my Reebok’s I feel ready to tackle the treadmill, bike and cross-trainer with renewed enthusiasm.
If I want to create a good impression, or if I just want to have a good day in the office and crack on through my work, my favourite ‘power dressing’ outfit is my purple check shirt, black tie and brown jacket. I feel ready to achieve.
And if I’m going to watch my beloved Leicester City I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without my Yuki Abe Leicester Shirt, my Leicester scarf and my lucky underpants!
I often feel that to address different aspects of my life I have to be in the right frame of mind. And I believe the same is true when I open up the Bible. If I need to find refreshment I have to let God’s Word roll over me without the need to read too much into it. If I’m preparing to preach or teach I need to be diligent and thorough in seeing what God is saying to me – often asking others for their advice and insight. If I want a workout I go to those places that challenge me – peering over Job’s shoulder, or watching the fireworks of Revelation.
But my mind-set needs to be right. And that doesn’t mean I need to be in my comfort zone – the Bible often makes me feel very uncomfortable.
The Story of Two Sons
“Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’
“The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.
“The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went.
“Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”
They said, “The first.”
Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.
Matthew 21: 28-32 – The Message
Eugene Peterson has a way with words! And it reminds me that I frequently use this passage as a bit of a back-slap, a self-congratulation, a round of applause to myself that I’m a pretty good disciple. But it also creeps up on me and kicks me out of my comfort zone by reminding me that one of the reasons this parable was told in the first place was because I’m sometimes not the first son, but the second. I don’t do what God says – but I make like I do. What does Homer Simpson say? “Look busy, here comes Jesus!” Doh!
And I often ignore the voice of those around me who are speaking God-inspired words because they make me feel uncomfortable. And those who look to me for help. And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of those outside the church who are doing God’s work when I am not!
This passage reminds me that obedience and allegiance is all well and good and a vital part of our faith. But grace, the love that knocks over my faults and failings and prejudices, that surprises me at every turn, that brings out the best in me, that picks me up when I’m down, that cleanses and heals and forgives, is the real one to follow. We might be surprised by the road we’re expected to take – but the truth is, we don’t know the half of God’s grace.
Just off to pull my socks up…