This parable is short and with few concrete details, so we must make an effort to read it imaginatively. If we do this, we will get a feel for the different temperaments of the two sons.
“I will not go!” – The first son comes across as rough, impetuous, rebellious; but like many with that temperament, he simmers down once he “thinks better of it.” From the second son’s “Certainly, sir” we get the picture of one who fawns, speaks with honeyed speech, but is superficial; he does not deliver. We can identify with both.
Have you ever forgotten an appointment or promise to pray for someone and you never did? I have forgotten to do that because I was preoccupied with other things, like packing to go out of town on a trip and meeting certain deadlines. It got me thinking that there are lots of things we say we’ll do and even write down on our lists, but never get around to completing. This parable makes the point that I might not want to FORGET the will of God.
After lectio divina on this scripture, I remembered attending Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday school and my teacher was my mother. As I recall she took great delight in giving examples that our words and actions are important anchors in our Christian faith. She kept insisting that Jesus’ instructions where clear and we (out of respect for our parents and the love for Jesus) need to live our life in truth of this parable. I heard my mother loud and clear, but I needed to check the scripture myself, and much to my disappointment the letters where highlight in red, which meant the words were from Jesus. (King James Edition..the words that Jesus spoke were written in red) I say this with tongue in cheek. It was my first awareness to connecting the importance of my words and actions and knowing my choices had consequences.
Jesus encourages us to think — to think about the consequences of our choices, especially the choices and decisions that will count not just for now but for eternity. The choices we make now will affect and shape our future. Both sons disobeyed their father; but one repented and then did what the father told him. Jesus makes his point clear: Good intentions are not enough. And promises don’t count unless they are performed. God wants to change our hearts. Active obedience to Jesus’ teachings must be present. God offers each of us the greatest treasure possible for this faithfulness; unending peace, joy, and hope in our lives.
Some people struggle to make a commitment, but once they do, they are able to muster the discipline and enthusiasm to honor it. Others seem to have less trouble coming to a decision, but then have trouble following through. Many of us fall somewhere in between. To all of us imperfect disciples, Jesus addresses the question, “Which of you is doing the will of the Father?
Mary Colleen Schwarz, OSB