God’s Acre 2

Matt. 21:28-3

Boys grow up, become teens and accumulate a degree of sophistication and awareness. One summer I asked my sons to weed the garden. Michael said yes he would, and then he disappeared with a friend to go to the beach. Christopher refused, said he was too busy, and took off. I retreated to my office. When I returned, I discovered that Chris had changed his mind, come back, and weeded the garden. My wife told me to be sure and thank him for doing the garden, which I did. But I was dissatisfied. Having been exposed to mass media, my sons knew about deceitful politicians, crooked sheriffs, etc. Archly, Chris pointed out that he had taken the wiser choice. By saying “no” he could always change his mind and obey; whereas Mike, by saying “yes” had no fall-back position. Michael by pretending to be obedient and by saying one thing and doing another, had disobeyed and flirted with the beast of hypocrisy. But Christopher, by calculatingly saying “no,” had left himself an extra option and thereby ridden the beast of hypocrisy. I was annoyed because neither son had done what I wanted him to do in the first place, which was to say “yes” and to tend the garden. I wanted the garden not only to yield healthy plants, but also to be an arena where my sons would exercise responsibility and take some ownership for what they did and where they lived. Instead, the garden became a place where they struggled with disobedience and hypocrisy. Jesus told a similar story nineteen hundred and sixty years ago.

A man had two sons. He told each to go and work in the vineyard. One refused but later repented and went. The other agreed but did not go. Which one obeyed the father? The priests and elders in the temple answered that the first son did the will of the father. Jesus then points out that the religious leaders did not listen to the prophet John the Baptist. Rather the tax collectors and those who were not ritually or ethically clean listened to John and believed in the way of righteousness. They enter the kingdom of God.

You and I live in an area, like the vineyard, which is between the ideal and the real, the possible and the actual, good intention and poor performance. Like the garden my sons tended, it is where we crop and shape experience and tend to matters of emotional and spiritual growth. It is where we learn to obey and to struggle with disobedience, and to tame, and sometimes subdue, the beast of hypocrisy. God grant us wisdom and grace in our choices. Amen.