Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Obedience is the will of God

In tomorrow's Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable of two sons. It goes like this
A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, `I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first."
John J. Pilch of Georgetown Univeristy has written of this passage saying
parable of two sonsA Christian missionary in the Middle East used to share this parable about the two sons (only verses 28-30) with villagers that he visited and ask: "Which was the better son?"

The vast majority answered that the son who said yes to his father even though he did not go to work in the vineyard was without doubt the better son. The son's reply was honorable and respectful. It was what the father wanted to hear. That he never went to work in the vineyard is beside the point, which in the Middle East is always honor.

Remember that life in the Middle East is very public. Honor, the core value of this culture, requires such publicity. The dialogue between the father and his sons in this parable takes place not in private, just between two at a time, but rather in public, within view and earshot of many villagers. Like their modern-day descendants, the Middle Eastern villagers in this parable favor the respectful but disobedient son over the disrespectful but obedient son.

The Ideal and the Real
All cultures distinguish between the ideal and reality, but the gap between these two is greater in other cultures than in the ancient Middle East, generally speaking. Westerners generally believe that the ideal is the norm by which reality should be judged. If reality does not measure up to the ideal, it is flawed.

Some Middle Eastern cultures prefer to blur the line between the ideal and the real. Like modern Middle Eastern respondents to Jesus' parable, the ancients too would believe against reality-that giving an honorable answer is enough. In their mind, conforming to the ideal of speaking respectfully is sufficient to fulfill the commandment to "honor one's father [and mother}" (Deut 5:16).

Honor is a public claim to worth that is confirmed by public acknowledgement of that claim by others. The father gives a very public command to two sons. His claim to honor is that the sons will respond with respect. The public watches the responses. One son responds honorably, and in the judgment of the crowd the father's claim is valid and affirmed.

The other son responds shamefully, he publicly humiliates his father, and the crowd's immediate judgment would deny the father's claim to honor in this instance. It is not likely that the crowd or the father went to check on the subsequent behavior of each son.

Jesus' Challenge
Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: "Which of the two did the will of his father?" (v. 31).
Jesus honors obedience more than honor. This is not surprising for the one who was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

parable of two sons


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