Monday, September 21, 2015

What is the Father to do?

The words of Jesus have limitless application. What he once spoke to his hearers, the Pharisees, in first century Palestine, by way of warning, are just as much prophecy as they are parable and moral precept. Of this we can be sure, and it is this quality of the words of the prophets of Israel, and of all true prophets—that they have limitless application—that has preserved them for all peoples, cultures, and lands down to the present age.

There is a spirit of religion—and here we must be quite careful to deliberately say we are not speaking of true religion, that which causes us to come to the aid of the helpless while keeping ourselves uncontaminated by the world—yes, there is a spirit of religion which we must fight against, which the prophets battled, which Jesus contested, which encroaches on all spiritual inspiration and endeavor, especially the Church of Christ.

Christ tells us of the father with two sons. He tells us that the father asked one son to go and work in the fields that day. The boy said, ‘Yes, I will go,’ but did not go. The father had also asked the other son, who refused, saying, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but who nonetheless went. After hearing this story, the people were asked, ‘Which son did the will of his father?’ and they responded, ‘The son who went to work in the fields.’ Jesus had made his point.

We hear this story in church every year, probably more than once, and if we read our bibles regularly, we will come across it in the 21st chapter of the gospel according to Matthew. We all seem to know what it means, but we never think of applying it, except to excuse ourselves in a haphazard, unserious way. We think, ‘Well, I am neither the son who was obedient in word but not in deed, nor the disobedient who repented and worked. It’s not about me.’

Sadly, and unavoidably, but forgivably, it is about us, both as individuals and as the world of the Church. Sadly, because once we see what we ‘should have done’ we’re sad about it. Unavoidably, because when we look back at our lives, we still maintain, ‘What else could I have done?’ And forgivably, because in looking back at our lives, or at Church history, we quickly abandon regret, and forgive ourselves, and forget. Our religion gets us out of this mess.

But it isn’t real. The words of Jesus have power, though they do not use it against us, but for us. They are prophetic words, and we are caught, whether we know it or not, in the net of our own evasions. Thinking we have escaped by the grace of God, ‘He tore the net and we escaped,’ we justify our present behavior by that of our forgiven past, a past that looks more and more rosy as real history fades from view. We said, ‘Yes,’ but we did not go.

So the Church—which should lead the world in all things because it is the light of the world and the city set on a hill which cannot be hid—is found out by the unbelieving world, which has learned well from our bad example and behavior, and goes out to work in the fields while saying ‘No’ to the Father, instead of us who say ‘Yes,’ but do not go. That world now begins to teach us what mercy is, even though in disobedience it also blasphemes life.

This is a mystery. How salvation freely offered is rejected as a form of words by some who go and perform those works that pertain to the Kingdom. Even greater a mystery, how others forego the work, believing all has been accomplished, and pursue a salvation of their own making.

What is the Father to do with His two sons?

No comments: