Matthew 21: 23 – 31
I read the children’s book ‘The Two Sons’ to the children in the nursey school that I used to visit fortnightly for ‘Story Time’ and asked them ‘which of the two sons pleased his father, the first or the second?’ (as the question is asked in the book). The children (all aged 4 and under) shouted out ‘The one who said he would go and help!’. ‘Really!’ I asked, ‘even though he didn’t actually do the job he said he would do?’ ‘Yes!’ they replied. The Nursery staff and I exchanged worried looks – there was clearly some learning to do!
The book ends: ‘Jesus says, “What we do is more important than what we say”’.
Our good intentions are useless, in any sphere of life, if they are not matched by our good example.
I expect the first son, had an ‘excuse’ – he was busy; he thought someone else might be better at the job than him; he didn’t want to get his clothes / hands dirty, or it might be hard work. But in the end what counted was not his excuse, but his change of heart, he faced up to the job he had been called to do and he did it. Minds can be changed! And sometimes our change of mind can be wisdom.
The other son, full of great intention, was not as good as his word. When push came to shove, his word did not translate into action, and what counted against him was his inability to match deed with word. Minds can be changed for the better or worse. Sometimes our change of mind is a weakness. What you see is not always what you get.
What we actually do is more important than what we say we will do, if we don’t then do it. If there is a gap between word and action, we lack credibility and integrity. And we risk falling down the gap we have created. We ought not to pray and sing and nod our agreement in Church about justice and fairness and love and compassion – putting the first last and the last first etc. if our words and intentions are not matched by our deeds.
The Old Testament often talks about ‘doing justice’. Another way of putting that might be ‘doing the right thing’.
I wonder, what might ‘doing justice’ mean for you?
What ‘thing’ can you do to ‘do the right thing’?
It might be something small, like an act of kindness that might be no trouble for you, but will make a big difference to the person you are kind to. Or something bigger – even if it’s inconvenient for you.
A bird with an injured wing will not be able to fly. It can flap its ‘fit’ wing as much as it likes, but it will never take off. A bird with one wing goes nowhere. Birds need two wings to fly – obviously! ‘Word’ and ‘deed’ are like the two wings of a bird – we need both to soar – to get off the ground even! To be ‘fit for purpose’ in bringing about God’s kingdom we need the integrity to match deed with word.
As a Church, if our only ‘fit’ wing is our words, then we will not fly, either spiritually or in service to Christ in the world in which we are part of Christ’s mission, where our loving words must match with loving actions.
Paul tells us that, in our relationships with one another, we are to have the same mindset as Jesus (Philippians 2:5) who talked the talk and walked the walk, all the way to the cross, for acting in accordance with his teaching. Living right with God can mean making many, sometimes great, changes in our lives. Minds can be changed, there’s still time to respond in word and deed to God. This is what repentance is.
Jesus talks about what life must look like if we are to live a life of Christian discipleship. Fortunately, as disciples we are believers under construction!