Entering the Kingdom of Heaven
The parable in the Gospel Reading, Jesus says, is about entering the kingdom of heaven. In the parable, a father says to one of his sons, “Go to work in my vineyard, Son!”; and that son says, “NO!” Then the father says to his other son, “Go to work in my vineyard, Son!” And that son says, “YES!”
Which of these sons is the good son? Which one enters the kingdom of heaven?
You might sensibly enough think that it is the son who says “YES” to his father.
After all, what could be worse than saying “NO!” to God the father? Who would think that rebellious NO-sayers could be pleasing to God? Who would suppose that they could enter the kingdom of heaven?
And so it seems clear that the YES-sayers are the ones who will enter the kingdom of heaven and those wretched NO-sayers will wind up in the other place.
But this is not what Jesus says. He says that the NO-saying son is the one who did the will of his father. He is the one who entered the kingdom of heaven, and not the YES-saying son.
Why would Jesus say this?
Well, the son who says “YES” to his father doesn’t actually do what his father wants him to do. It is the NO-saying son who actually goes to work in his father’s vineyard.
And so here is the thing for us to notice. What the NO-saying son says is contrary to God’s will. But what he does is in accordance with it.
It is just the other way around with the YES-saying son. The words of the YES-saying son are obedient to God’s will, but his life is lived in opposition to it.
The words of the YES-saying son are empty. His life, not his words, tell the real truth about his relationship to his father. The truth is that the YES-saying son rejects God’s will, however much acceptance there is in his words.
And so the Psalm gives us the right prayer to go with this parable: “Lord, teach us your ways!” Our ways need to be God’s ways. It is good if our words say YES to God. But what is crucial is that our lives say YES to God. Unless they do, our words are worthless.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University