Homily for Dec. 13th, 2016:
Today=s parable of the two sons was Jesus= way of bringing home the contrast between the religious leaders, who rejected him, and the outcasts of society, who heard him gladly. To Jesus= hearers, living in a patriarchal society, the father in the story was a figure of unquestioned authority. His sons owed him the obedience enjoined in the fourth commandment: AHonor your father and your mother.@
The first son=s response to the father=s request for help on the family farm was an in-your-face refusal of his duty which would have deeply shocked Jesus= hearers. ABut afterwards [he] changed his mind and went,@ Jesus tells us. The second son responds courteously and at once: AYes, sir!@ ABut [he] did not go,@ Jesus says.
Immediately Jesus confronts his critics with a question. AWhich of the two did what his father=s will?@ Jesus= critics give the only possible answer: AThe first.@ They are convicted out of their own mouths. AAmen, I say to you,@ Jesus tells them, Atax collectors and prostitutes are entering the
before you. When
John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax
collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later
change your minds and believe him.@
For us the story contains a warning C but also encouragement. Faithful performance of our religious duties is in itself no guarantee of salvation. Such obedience is profitable only if it brings us closer to others and makes us more loving people C and if it brings us closer to God. And the closer we come to God, the more clearly we shall recognize our remaining sinfulness and unworthiness of all the love he showers on us.
What counts, Jesus is telling us, is not what we say, feel, or intend. The only thing that counts is what we do. God sees the difficulties with which we must contend. When we stumble and fall, and think we can rise no more because we=ve been down so often before, we need to ask God to do for us what we can no longer do ourselves.
Let me conclude with the verses of an evangelical hymn. If you have ever watched a Billy Graham revival on television, you have heard it sung softly by the massed choirs as people come forward to give their lives to Jesus Christ. It goes like this:
Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me
And that thou bid=st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yes, all I need, in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am: thou wilt receive; wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe; O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, thy love unknown, has broken every barrier down;
Now to be thine, yes, thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, of thy great love, the breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above: O Lamb of God, I come.