the parable of the two sons

god be with you

Today is the last day in our series we’ve called ReWired and throughout it we’ve been exploring the parables of Jesus and asking how do they challenge us into a new way of being human and alive in the world.

As I was rumbling with which parable we should end the series with,
there was one that stood out to me out of all the ones that were still on the list,
and it stood out because I don’t think Ive ever heard anyone ever preach on it before.

I started then to wonder why that was.
Maybe it’s just a boring parable that just somehow,
through the whole putting together of the Bible,
people wanted to edit it out but felt they couldn’t because ‘well, Jesus said it.’
‘Yah, but its boring’
‘I know but he said it. We can’t just get rid of it because he had an off day.’

But after spending some time with this parable,
Im now wondering if the real reason we don’t hear the parable of the two sons very often is for the very opposite reason: its a really good parable.
its one that provokes and challenges us in a way most of us want nothing to do with;

We’d rather have nothing to do with it because the parable draws us into a really difficult and thick tension that we,
as people of faith and spirituality and people who are trying to be the church,
need to not just be aware of,
but learn how to live within.


So today,
my friends,
I think we will talk about:

that parable nobody preaches about,
a truth we all know but never say,
that rolling stones song
and embracing the whole.

But first, let’s say a prayer.


So before we go too far, lets talk about this parable and the story around it so we can all be on the same page.

Our story starts off with Jesus being in some pretty hot water.

Just before our story happens,
Jesus went down into the Temple and we have that famous scene where he used a whip to drive out all the people who were there selling items for worship,
which had had this effect of limiting access to God to only those who could afford to buy the “right” and “best” items,
and then after he had driven them out,
he brought in those who previously couldn’t afford to gain that access to the Divine,
the people who, for their entire lives, just had to hope that God would notice them standing outside the Temple walls.

It was this super powerful and subversive act –
this powerful un-doing of the very social and religious foundations of his world,
this dramatic declaration that said everyone, no matter their status, has equal access to God.

And so,
understandably upset,
the religious leaders and authorities come to Jesus,
and this is where our story begins,
and they want to know what gives him the right,
just who does he think he is,
what authority could he possibly have to do something like that.

And so we have this showdown where Jesus turns the whole question back on them,
asking ‘well what do you guys think of what John the Baptist did?’
John’s another guy who challenged how the world worked and got killed for it.
The authorities can’t say anything because if they say God was behind what John did, Jesus will ask ‘then why didn’t you believe him?’
and if they say God wasn’t behind it, the people would get upset because they did believe God was behind it,
which would then risk having the religious authorities losing their power and control over the people.

So they go with the safe answer and say, ‘We dunno.’

Jesus then tells them a parable about a father who asks one of his sons to go work at the farm and he replies ‘No’ but later changes his mind and goes;
the father then goes and asks another son the same thing and the son says ‘Yes, I’ll go’ but doesn’t go.

Jesus then asks the leaders, ‘Who did the will of the father?’
‘The first son,’ they all say.

Here’s how Jesus responds:
“Yes. Now hear this: the crooks, prostitutes, and all the sinners will get into heaven before you do because they believed and changed their minds.”

And Jesus drops the mic and walks off.


So other than that sick burn at the end, what makes this parable so good?
Why should we not edit it out?
Why is this something we need to hear today?

There are a couple sermons we could get out of it,
but I think one of the reasons this parable is so good is that it confronts us with a truth that we all know is true but will never ever ever dare confess, especially in church:

And that truth is this:

Jesus is annoying.

I mean, he is kind of annoying, isn’t he?

Not only is he always with us in our hearts,
but he rarely gives a straight up answer
he’s always talking in riddles,
he’s always challenging our worldview and assumptions with his whole ‘you’ve heard it said, but now I tell you this’ line;
theres the constant reminder to do things like turn the other cheek and not just pray for, but love our enemies;
there’s the call to sell everything and give all the money to the poor – something I’m pretty sure he was quite serious about –
and then there’s the challenging call to welcome in the marginalized and work for justice for the oppressed;
… and thats just to get us started.

Anyone know what Im talking about?
Anyone with me on this?
Its ok.
We can name it here:
Jesus can be annoying.

He’s annoying because he’s always pushing us to out of our comfort zones;
he’s always calling us to cross boundaries – both the ones within and outside of ourselves;
and he’s inviting us into this new way of understanding what it means to be human and alive in the world,
this way of love that totally and completely turns our lives and worlds upside down.

It can all add up leaving us feeling,
but never really saying out loud,
“Dude. Enough. Just let me be!”

Anyone feel like that before?
Me too.
I think a lot of us have.

And I think this is why when we look at the Meek and Mild Jesus,
the Jesus of grace, love, and compassion,
the Jesus who gives us a seat at the table and offers us words of comfort,
we go:
‘Now thats a Jesus I can follow.
Lets talk about that Jesus!
Lets sing songs about that Jesus.
Lets build a church around him!’

But when the Annoying Jesus comes along,
that risky and pointed Jesus we see in stories like this one,
that Jesus whose always calling us beyond our own needs and wants,
and that Jesus that questions our habits, assumptions, and impulses,
we all get a bit hesitant, don’t we?
We all get a bit uneasy, don’t we?
We all look for another story to preach and hear about,
because this Jesus isn’t easy to take,
he’s too uncomfortable,
he’s too demanding,
there’s so much – too much – cost and sacrifice involved.

Anyone know what Im talking about?

Im sure a lot of us do –
its a pretty natural and understandable reaction.

Cause, if we’re honest, the kind of stuff the Annoying Jesus is talking about,
the kind of life he’s opening up for us,
that life of dying to self, as Paul called it,
or of leaving home in order to find it, as Jesus talked about,
that’s not really the kind of faith and spirituality we want, is it?
That’s not really what we think of when we think about what we want church to be like, is it?

We want a faith and spirituality full of beautiful and true things like God’s grace and love, not one that confronts us with messy questions and issues.
We want church to be relax and rest in, not a place where we have to work and think and change.

But here’s the thing,
and now we’re really getting into this tension we all need to be aware of,
and I’m talking to myself as much as anybody else:

As hard as they may be to hear,
its the stories of the Annoying Jesus that we need to really pay attention to and spend some time with
because they confront us with a truth about the faith and spirituality we’re here practicing together as the church,
a truth that can be really hard to hear and digest,
and a truth found in one of the greatest rock songs ever written:

You can’t always get what you want.
No, you can’t aways get what ya want.


The tension that we,
as Christians,
as people who are finding a new way of being human and alive in this world through Jesus,
have to live within,
is that tension between
the faith and spirituality we want
the faith the spirituality we get.

We want a faith and spirituality that makes us feel good,
that reassures and comforts,
that lets us know God loves us and that we’re enough,

and that’s all good and lovely and perfectly understandable to want,
and it is something we do find in the faith and spirituality of Jesus,
thats why we all love the meek and mild Jesus stories;

but the faith and spirituality we get from Jesus is so much more than that;
there’s another whole dimension to it,
one that,
if we’re going to do this right and do this well,
if we’re really going to embrace and find that new way and world,
we need to embrace,
however difficult and uncomfortable it may be;
and it’s the part the Annoying Jesus leads us into:

a transcendent life of being a part of something thats bigger than ourselves – of participating in what God is doing in this world;
a sacrificial life that looks past our own personal preferences, needs, and wants for the sake of our community, neighbours, and world;
a deep life of growth and transformation and becoming whole;
a reverent life that letting love lead us out of our comfort zones and into the kind of world that was always meant to be.


The spiritual task this parable opens up to us is the really tough but really essential task of embracing both parts of Jesus.

The spiritual task is for us is to become people who,
perhaps reluctantly,
perhaps even after an initial ‘no,’
choose to courageously step out and follow that gracious, loving and Annoying Jesus into things we may not like or fully understand,
and say ‘yes’ to a faith and spirituality that turns our lives and world upside down.

For its there,
in following all of Jesus,
it’s in practicing changing our minds,
trusting and believing its worth it,
and stepping out in imaginative and adventurous faith,
that we will find the kind of life and world we’re looking for and be the church God is calling us to be.




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