Sunday Devotion: To Say or To Act? That is the question…

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Bible Readings for Sunday, September 25th, 2011
– The Week of The 15th Sunday After Pentecost

*Click on each bible passage to expand the text.

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Psalm 25:1-9

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

  • Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live. – Ezekiel 18:31-32
  • Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. – Psalm 25:4
  • Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13
  • For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. – Matthew 21:32

Who Did the Will of His Father?

In today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew, Yeshua tells us a most peculiar story. It is mostly peculiar due to his shocking reaction to the crowd’s correct answer:

Matthew 21

28. “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
29. He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
30. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.
31. 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.

That’s right: the correct answer is “the first son” – the son who at first refused and then changed his mind and went to do the will of his father in the vineyard.

Then why, oh, why does Yeshua then lambaste the crowd for answering correctly? Saying, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you”?

Because, like us, the crowd knows the correct answer: those that act – not promise – do the will of God. Yet we know this but do not “change our minds” ourselves. We still do not go “into the vineyard”. Therefore, we are like the second son – all of us – we say the right things but we do not do the right things.

And yet, if we change our minds now, and act upon the will of God which we proclaimed to know but ignored in the first place, then we will be like the first son!

To be either son is not preferable -  I can guarantee you God would rather have children that both respectfully agree to act and then act, not this “either/or” prospect the two sons in this parable. Neither wholly good, neither perfect.

But this is the beauty of God’s will: it is always working on us, arguing, revealing, shaming, correcting, loving, protecting, shaping, comforting… perfecting us in God.

Philippians 2

13. for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Our lives are a never-ending series of opportunities, chances to learn, to grow, to change, to be transformed into a more perfect likeness of, and oneness with God.

1 John 2

4. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6. Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

John 17

22. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

To love God is to love each other. To do the will of God is to act in the interest of each other.

God does not desire declarations of belief followed by empty action.

God would rather see no declarations or promises at all… if our hearts and actions were in the interest of each other.

What do you think?

There was a God who had countless children. He went to the first group who were atheists and said, ‘Children, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,” they answered, but later they went nonetheless and helped their brothers and sisters.

Then the father went to the second group who were Christians and said the same thing.

They answered,”We will, Lord!” …but they did not go and act in the world for the sake of their brothers and sisters..

Which of the two did the will of God: the atheists who acted in the interest of others or the Christians who proclaimed obedience but did nothing?

Trig Bundgaard About Trig Bundgaard

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your feedback, thoughts and ideas about what I've written. Especially if it's contrary to my views!

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Grace and peace to you!

Romans 5
"18. Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
19. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."


  1. “Jesus said to them, ‘I’ll tell you straight, guys – crooks and hookers are getting into the Kingdom of God before you. John was straight with you, and you wouldn’t hear it, but the crooks and hookers did. They turned to God, and it all changed. But even when you saw this, you wouldn’t listen, or change. You should be asking the crooks and hookers to let you cut in line!’
    Extremely liberal bit of paraphrasing OF Matt 22:31-32 by me

    This section of Matthew has dogged me for years. I’m not sure exactly when it first showed up in my head, but it’s well into its second decade as a tenant there – shoes off, lounging around in its underwear, free access to the fridge.

    I do know why the thought is there, and why it doesn’t get weaker over time. The verses speak to me of my experience with alcoholism, addiction, ADHD – the things that brought me to AA and the 12-step lifestyle. In my experience, powerless people of all types who have found spiritual awakening “as the result of these steps” (from Step #12) are the “prostitutes and tax collectors’ mentioned here. In my mind, they became ‘crooks and hookers”. The relationship I see is the spiritual condition, not the physical symptoms. Drink, Drugs, Sex, Greed, food – it doesn’t matter; the unifying point is the pain and brokenness – the realization that it doesn’t have to be that way.

    And as in the story and your sharing, the action is what is called for. The Big Book of AA puts it this way:

    “Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you want what we have, and are willing to go to any lengths to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps.”

    ‘Ready to take certain steps’ – not ‘ready to say certain things’ or ‘ready to accept certain positions’ or ‘ready to hang out with certain people.’ Action is called for. As one of my earliest sponsors in AA put it, “The DO comes before the KNOW.

    Do what? That’s the neat part. The ‘big picture’ is the Great Commandment, but the details vary for each person. And even for each person, the details and choices are wonderfully complex and unbelievably interesting.

    “We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.”

    But you have to act. It’s ‘one day at a time’ and ‘life on life’s terms’ or ‘be here now’ and ‘mindfulness’ or ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ – all these words point in the same direction. But you can’t just point – you gotta move.

    One last parable I’ve learned from ‘crooks & hookers’ in 12 step programs: “You can get to Boston from Chicago by traveling west. It may take a while, but you can do it. If you talk with people along the way, you may well learn some things that’ll make the trip shorter, and have friends to share the journey with. But if you don’t get off your butt and start moving, six months from now, you’ll still be in Chicago!”

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