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Lent - Day 11

Day 11 Wednesday


That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


Matthew 21: 28-32
And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.


This is the first of six parables Matthew records Jesus telling during Passion Week. The characters in these stories represent characters in the drama of Jesus. Because each parable makes the contrast between belief and unbelief very clear. In these stories, Jesus raised the stakes for everyone listening to him. He inspired his disciples and provoked his detractors.
The meaning of this parable is not hidden. Jesus explained the characters. The son that says, “Yes” but does not do his father’s will represents the learned elders, the chief priests and experts in the Scriptures. They learned the Word. They enacted the LORD’s worship. They strove to obey the law and serve God. But along the way, they lost the point. They became concerned with external righteousness. They lost the quality of mercy. Their hearts hardened from being pliable to God to being rigid with pride. 
The son that says, “No” but ends up doing his father’s request represents the people who previously lived in open rebellion to the Law of God, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes. They lived compromised lives. Even when they knew better. They got so far down the wrong road that most would have thought it was too late to change. But Jesus’ call to them awoke what was still soft and open and yearning in their hearts. It’s never too late. They repented and changed.  
Jesus reveals the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God. The notoriously “wrong” may end up being more responsive to his call than the apparently “right.” In today’s measure of righteousness, this means that racists, sexual abusers, bigots, homophobes, exploiters and power mongers may hear the call to turn and be made new before those of us who check every box for what makes us aware, woke, responsible and with-it in today’s world.  
Luther reminded us that we all need to repent of our righteousness as well as our sin. For our resumes do not connect us to the Father. Rather, a constant line into the heart that needs mercy and saving keeps us relating to the one Savior.


O Father, I have focused on doing right and being right.
I went to school.
I got decent grades.
I obeyed most of the rules.
I made up for what I did wrong.
I learned the codes for how to speak, dress and act.
I got a job. I played the game. I did well.
I’m glad I’m not like other people.
So many wasted their lives.
So many don’t know how to act.
They overstate rather than underplay.
They grab and gobble rather than receive politely.
They don’t say thanks and they don’t think about others.
And yet when I come before you 
I realize that all my right-ness is but filthy rags.
I repent of my goodness for it hides a complacent, 
In-curved heart.
I long for the joy of the dramatically lost who come home to you.
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


The brilliance of Jesus’ teaching includes deceptive simplicity. Many of his parables draw contrasts that are much clearer than the murky tangle of our ordinary lives. We might want to protest, “But Jesus, it’s just not that simple! Life is more complicated than that!” He riles us.
And therein lies his brilliance! Jesus forces his listeners to choose. Are you a good son or a bad son? Are you a wise or foolish maiden? Which kind of ground are you for the seed of God’s Word: hard, thorny, rocky or fertile? Are you true-hearted or double-minded?
Of course, we are not simply one or the other. There is a wandering prodigal son in me as well as a judgmental older brother. Sometimes I am prepared to receive Jesus the bridegroom, sometimes I am not. Sometimes my heart is full of thorns and other times it is receptive. Sometimes I am not like either son in today’s parable: once in a while I say, “Yes" and actually follow through! 
Jesus knows the nuances and paradoxes of life. But he speaks in such stark contrasts not because he is a simpleton. But because he wants to provoke us to choice. He wants to move us from where we are. He may well frighten us, infuriate us or convict us. He may make us want to question or even argue. But the one thing he never, ever lets his listeners do is to be indifferent. 
Today, as always, we have to make a choice about which kind of son we will be. He just demands it. Because the Christ who loves us as we are won’t leave us stuck as we are!


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