One winter day a man went shopping at the local neighborhood mall. When he returned to his car he noticed a rather foul odor coming from under the hood and so he checked the engine. In the compartment he discovered a dead cat rather mutilated from being caught in the fan belt. The poor cat had sought shelter from the snow and cold and didn’t realize the dangers of resting on the engine block. Mr. Jones was lucky though, one of his shopping bags was made of plastic and so he emptied its contents and proceeded to scrape, pull and push the cat corpse into the bag. With a bang he slammed the hood down and walked off to wash his hands, but looking back he noticed something unusual.
He had left the bag on the hood of the car. He was about to return and pick it up but just then a lady walks by, looks suspiciously in both directions, she grabs the bag, and with her cart she then speeds off for the mall. “Well this is too good to be true!” the man thought as he laughed at the lady.
He decided to follow her and see what would happen next. She went to a restaurant and proceeded to survey her prize. “Yeek!” she screamed as she looked in the bag. And then over she fell. Of course, the management was equally alarmed that a customer had fainted in their establishment and so they called the paramedics. The woman in no time at all was strapped to a cart and ready to be hauled off to the ambulance. But the man couldn’t resist. “Hey lady!” he shouted, “don’t forget your package!” And with that he gently laid the cat corpse filled bag on the lady’s chest, just as the ambulance doors were closing!
With the 20th and 21st chapters of Matthew the time of reckoning had come. In the 20th chapter we find the story of the workers in the vineyard. For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. The owner goes out four times during the day at different hours and hires workers for the vineyard. The problem arises at the end of the day when all the workers are paid the same. The ones that worked only an hour where paid the same as those who worked all day. The message is clear to the Hebrew people – you have carried the torch of the good news all these generations: Your expectation is a greater reward. But the Gentiles, who are new, will get the same reward. Jesus concludes the parable with, So the last will be first, and the first will be last. That statement sets the tone for the parables to follow, the entry into Jerusalem, the conflict at the Temple.
There once was a bus driver and a minister standing in line to get into Heaven.
The bus driver approaches the gate and St. Peter says, “Welcome, I understand you were a bus driver. Since I’m in charge of housing, I believe I have found the perfect place for you. See that mansion over the hilltop? It’s yours.” The minister heard all this, and begins to stand a little taller. He also thinks to himself, “If a bus driver got a place like that, just think what I’ll get.” The minister approaches the gate and St. Peter says, “Welcome, I understand you were a minister. See that shack in the valley.” St. Peter had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when the irate minister said, “I was a minister, I preached the Gospel, I helped teach people about God. Why does that bus driver get a mansion, and I get a shack?” Sadly St. Peter responds, “Well, it seems when you preached, people slept. When the bus driver drove, people prayed.”
There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, `Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ `I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.
He answered, `I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.
We hear the echo of those words, the last will be first, and the first will be last – it is what we don’t anticipate. Our attention goes to the son who says he won’t do it and yet he does. Somehow we hold the son who says he will do it and then doesn’t in low esteem. We want to compare the Jewish leaders to the son who says he will do it but doesn’t. We the Christian want to see ourselves as the son who says no, but does it anyway. Remember back to our earlier story, the laborers in the vineyard all get the same pay. The reality of this parable is that the father is not pleased with either son. Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. While the former son is clearly better than the later. The ideal child would be the one who accepted the father’s orders with obedience and unquestioningly carried them out. Put in the context of Near Eastern values of public respect for the head of the family, we know there are conflicts and tensions within this family.
The beauty of this story is that we are allowed to decide which son pleases his father. We want to come in and put labels on everyone. He is good. He is bad. We want to define who is the Christian and who is the non-Christian.
Who is the insider? Who is the outsider? The beauty of the story is that both are the man’s sons.
Luke tells us about two other sons, LUK 15:12 The younger one said to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “But the father said to his servants, `Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
The bottom line is that we are to never forget that we are God’s children and always welcome at home. Some of us are rebellious up front. But then we repent and change our ways and come home. Some of us pretend that we are being obedient but are rebellious. The challenge of the believer is to be better than both. To be the child that is both respectful and obedient.