“What do you think? 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?” (Matthew 21:28-31a)
This is nobody’s favourite parable. While many of Jesus’ parables are powerfully evocative and leave us scratching our heads, this one doesn’t. The message is straightforward and obvious. Moreover, it focuses on an issue that most of us don’t like to think about – namely, the way our children so regularly cause us pain.
I hate to put that so bluntly as I love all of my children. Even so, having been a parent for more than thirty years, I confess that my children have been the source of more grief and anguish for me than all the other people in my life put together. Of course, they have also been my greatest source of joy. It’s just that, thirty-something years ago, before I had children, I anticipated the joy. In no way though did I anticipate the anguish. For some reason I just assumed that my children would do a much better job of growing up than I did.
Jesus depicts a man with two very different sons. The first is obstinate and disrespectful. You ask him to clean his room and he gives you the finger. The second son, by contrast, snaps to attention when you ask him to do something. He seems like the perfect child until you get home and find that he hasn’t done any of the things he’d promised. Meanwhile, the first son has come good and done what was asked of him. Even so, it’s hard to know what reaction you’ll get if try to thank him.
We are familiar with this kind of family. If you don’t see these boys in your own sons and daughters, perhaps you can see yourself in one (or both) of them. This is a dysfunctional family. We are familiar with dysfunctional families. Of course, if we have to make a choice as to which of the two lads we’d prefer to still have living at home, we’ll likely choose to put up with the bad attitude to see the work get done. Even so, neither of the lads is anything to write home about.
“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you!” (Matthew 21:31)
Jesus told this parable to a group of prominent clerics and religious leaders. I doubt that they expected Him to be quite so blunt and aggressive. There is no ambiguity in Jesus message. Saying all the right things and demonstrating your theological orthodoxy doesn’t add up to much in the eyes of God if you’re not doing the work. Of course, sex-workers and collaborators have their issues too but, from Jesus’ perspective, a lot of them were putting their religious leaders to shame.
It’s an interesting image of the church, isn’t it? I don’t mean the church that we might gather with on a Sunday. That church rarely includes tax collectors and sex workers. I mean the less visible church – the spiritual community of God’s people that includes all of us who are listening to the Spirit of God. We are a dysfunctional family, and we continue to cause our our Father grief. Even so, our Heavenly Father does not disown any of us but persists with trying to parent us.
Our Sunday Eucharist
Last Sunday was the first time our Sunday Eucharist broadcast went ahead without me there. I’ve been in Poole, south of London, and the broadcast took place at three in the morning, Poole time. Not only couldn’t I manage the time, but there was no space to broadcast in Joy’s brother’s home. Mark and Rob graciously took the helm, and I am deeply grateful. This was their first shot and I thought they did brilliantly.
On the panel last Sunday we had Doug and Andrew join Father Mark and Rob. The lads struggled with a few technicalities but this was more than compensated for by the quality of the discussion and the insights that were shared. Some of the brothers shared experiences that were quite personal during the Bible Banter. I especially appreciated Doug’s stories about his dad. At the very end of the broadcast, we had the chance to meet Andrew’s son, James, who shared some of his joys at being a new father! It was a special time. The recording is below.
The only real regret I have about last Sunday is that I didn’t receive Father Elias’ homily in time for the broadcast. Even so, I have it now, and it turns out that Elias didn’t speak to Paul’s letter to the Philippians anyway. Instead, he gave us a movie review on the 2011 film, The Warrior. It seems that Elias was deeply moved by this film and sees some deep spiritual allegories in it! I’ve included Elias’ movie review below, and you can see it, complete with transcript, on the Member Site here.
This coming Sunday I will still be in the UK. Father Mark and Robert will be at the helm again and will be joined this week by David Baldwin. Tom Toby would normally join us on the first Sunday of the month too but I believe he is mid-pilgrimage – on the road to Kabela in Iraq. We’ll look forward to having him back with us next month.
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I’m finishing today’s newsletter while driving north, to the other side of London, to have lunch with Joy’s mum. Actually … Joy is doing the driving.
We’ve been in the UK a week now and it’s been lovely. We’ve seen lots of amazing places, met some wonderful people, and I’ve done some punishing rounds with the lads at Bendall’s Boxing Gym in Branksome,
It’s really struck me that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve travelled overseas without any clear mission agenda. Over the last ten years I’ve made nine trips to Syria, four to Iran, two to Papua New Guinea, and one quick stopover in London to meet with Julian Assange. Each trip has felt more like a military deployment than a holiday, and, in many cases I did travel with an armed escort. It feels odd now, being treated courteously, rather than suspiciously, by airport officials, and I’m getting use to not worrying about the ‘hot zones’ that need to be avoided.
Anyway, it’s been lovely, and one of the highlights thus far was meeting up with my friend, Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, and spending a day with him in his hometown of Southampton. I did a quick interview with Stephen there that I’ve included below. He has been treated shamelessly by his own church on account of his advocacy work for Palestine. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself for the way I’ve been treated by the church, I think of Stephen and realise how much worse it can get. You’ll get a glimpse of that in the interview, though Stephen’s pain is totally overshadowed by his courage. He continues to soldier on – a true Fighting Father.
I’ve tried to restrain myself in the sharing of holiday pics below. If you have an appetite for that sort of thing, you’ll find more extensive collections of photographs on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
Three more quick things before I leave you:
Firstly, I must recommend Andrew Madry’s latest Substack article, “What Happened to Canada and Australia?” It is great to see Andrew moving beyond his key area of expertise, which is data analysis, and sharing his wisdom on broader global issues. The article also includes a wonderful description of Andrew’s father – a man whom I remember well, and with great affection and admiration.
Secondly, this week we are finally seeing the launch of Panquake – an amazing project headed by my friend, Suzie Dawson, and her crew of software engineers and free-speech warriors.
Panquake is an attempt to hit back against Big Tech and all its online tracking. The Panquake team are developing online platforms that embrace freedom in every sense – freedom of speech, freedom from tracking, and they are currently cost-free. I’ve attached the Panquake press release below as a PDF. You can also watch the video of the team discussing the launch here, and you can start using the team’s first software application – Panquake me– here.
Finally, please say a prayer that I might yet get the opportunity to visit Julian at Belmarsh Prison while I’m here. I’ve had no response as yet.
May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called.