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Parable of the Two Sons

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  • Bob Schacht
    Will some exegete please explain Matthew 21:28-31 to me? Is Jesus saying that what you do is more important than what you say? I m often confused by such
    Message 1 of 6 , Jan 7, 2010
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      Will some exegete please explain Matthew 21:28-31 to me? Is Jesus
      saying that what you do is more important than what you say? I'm
      often confused by such matters. I'd pull out my copy of The Five
      Gospels, or The Interpreter's Bible, but they're packed away.

      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.


      Bob Schacht
      Northern Arizona University

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • JamesFrankMcGrath
      Bob, I do think that may be the point of the story. In some honor/shame cultures even today, a son would simply be expected to respond positively - regardless
      Message 2 of 6 , Jan 8, 2010
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        Bob, I do think that may be the point of the story. In some honor/shame cultures even today, a son would simply be expected to respond positively - regardless whether compliance was genuinely envisaged or realistic. I can think of a number of settings in which a similar assumption might prevail, and so I think there is a "counter-cultural" element to the parable, as in so many others found in the New Testament. Not actually doing what you promised to was (I suspect) easier to tolerate in this cultural setting than a direct no to one's father, and the parable seems to be offering a different perspective.

        I've also wondered whether this is a variant version of that other more famous "parable of the two sons" in Luke's Gospel.

        James McGrath
        Associate Professor of Religion
        Butler University

        --- In crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com, Bob Schacht <bobschacht@...> wrote:
        >
        > Will some exegete please explain Matthew 21:28-31 to me? Is Jesus
        > saying that what you do is more important than what you say? I'm
        > often confused by such matters. I'd pull out my copy of The Five
        > Gospels, or The Interpreter's Bible, but they're packed away.
        >
        > 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.
        >
        >
        > Bob Schacht
        > Northern Arizona University
        >
        > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        >
      • Loren Rosson
        Hi Bob, James beat me to the punch here, but I ll elaborate a bit. John Pilch often references a survey of Lebanese villagers who favor the second son -- the
        Message 3 of 6 , Jan 8, 2010
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          Hi Bob,
          James beat me to the punch here, but I'll elaborate a bit. John Pilch often references a survey of Lebanese villagers who favor the second son -- the one who told his father he was going to work in the field but did not do so. As James says, in honor-shame cultures appearance, lip-service, and politeness can be far more important than honestly following up on what you say you will do. (A lesson I learned the hard way many years ago in Lesotho, when I told a fellow villager I wouldn't be able to do as he requested; though I'd given an honest answer, I realized I should have lied and promised to do as requested, and then only later account for failure.) The first son was outrageously insulting.
          In its Matthean context, of course, the first son is implied to be the better one by way of allegory. But notice the question posed by Jesus: "Which son did the will of his father?", not "Which son is the better of the two?" or "Which son honored his father?" Everyone would agree that the first son did the *will* of his father, but that's not usually the crucial question. The Matthean Jesus makes it the crucial question in allegorizing the father as God in order to vindicate dishonorable low-lives.
          Loren Rosson III

          Nashua NH

          http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com




          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • Rikk Watts
          Hi Bob, Trust this finds you well (been a long while). Yes, I think essentially that s the point. What matters is to do the will of God, not just to give lip
          Message 4 of 6 , Jan 9, 2010
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            Hi Bob,

            Trust this finds you well (been a long while).

            Yes, I think essentially that's the point. What matters is to do the will of
            God, not just to give lip service. Given the trajectory of teaching from
            6.20 (³your will be done on earth as in heaven²); 7.21 "not everyone who
            says Lord, Lord, but the one who does the will of my father²); and just
            before the pivotal parables chapter and hard on the heels of the climactic
            Beelzebul controversy that sets the stage for it, in 12.50 doing the will of
            the Father is now revealed: to follow Jesus, i.e. to hear and do what he
            teaches. Cf. in this context, 15:7-9 where he takes up Isa 29:13¹s (LXX)
            damning denunciation‹ offering God lip service while one¹s heart is far from
            him, which in Isaiah means: doing their own thing ‹ against his opponents,
            i.e. those who read the Law differently from him. (It should be pretty clear
            that there¹s not much room for diversity of opinion according to Matt's
            Jesus; but then anyone who has the chutzpah to reorient Israel's Passover
            meal around himself and assume he has the right to change its menu clearly
            doesn't see himself as your ordinary rabbi or even prophet; might have
            something to do with his belief that he can forgive sins and command the
            sea.. but be that as it may).

            By the time we get to chaps 19-22, the tension between Israel's hierarchs
            and Jesus is right out in the open. In not welcoming him into the city,
            based on ancient entry entry conventions on a how a king (21:5, 9) is to be
            received, they confirm their insurrectionist status and largely seal their
            fate. In a two sided act, Jesus thus both declares the Temple¹s unclean and
            rebellious status which naturally according to prophetic conventions (Jer 7)
            means it is under God¹s judgment, and hence announces its destruction
            (21:12-13)‹as per the cursed fig-tree (21:18-22). When confronted on his
            authority to do these things, he zeroes in (21:23-27) on their response to
            John by asking them about their assessment of him. This makes sense to me,
            given that John is apparently for Matt Malachi¹s prophesied Elijah redivivus
            (17:12-13) whose task was to prepare for Yahweh¹s personal return to the
            Temple (aside: ... so that¹s why Matt¹s Jesus behaves as he does.. whatever
            else Jesus is also the embodiment of Yahweh¹s personal presence.. hmm).
            Since in Malachi Elijah¹s job was to prepare that generation lest Yahweh in
            his coming smite the land with a curse (cf. Matt¹s immediately preceding
            Temple and fig tree incidents), it was the hierarchs¹ failure to do the will
            of God by submitting to John¹s baptism in preparation for Yahweh¹s personal
            coming that authorizes Jesus¹ Temple action.

            It¹s in this context that Jesus tells this story of the two sons (given the
            present context ³son² takes on more significance; Israel was called to be
            God¹s ³son² [Exod 4:22; cf. Deut 32:18] ‹ Israel¹s destiny turns on this
            point). The leaders are like the sons who while saying they will do not do
            the work of their father¹s vineyard, viz. they did not listen to John (don¹t
            forget to include the all important v.32 ³For John...²). And immediately
            after? The parable of the wicked tenants who did not give the owner the due
            produce of his ... vineyard (cf. as most see Isa 5¹s vineyard song where
            Israel is seen as God¹s vineyard who was to produce fruits of righteousness;
            i.e. live according to God¹s will).

            So yes, the importance of doing what one will say. But more located too. If
            Israel is going to claim to be God¹s faithful children, they need to follow
            Jesus (at the baptism and transfiguration declared to be God¹s son) and do
            his vision of righteousness (5:20).

            Well there¹s my two cents (or toonies) worth. Hope it¹s helpful; if not feel
            free to chuck it.

            Best

            Rikk

            > From: Bob Schacht <bobschacht@...>
            > Reply-To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
            > Date: Thu, 07 Jan 2010 23:33:29 -0700
            > To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
            > Subject: [XTalk] Parable of the Two Sons
            >
            > Will some exegete please explain Matthew 21:28-31 to me? Is Jesus
            > saying that what you do is more important than what you say? I'm
            > often confused by such matters. I'd pull out my copy of The Five
            > Gospels, or The Interpreter's Bible, but they're packed away.
            >
            > 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.
            >
            >
            > Bob Schacht
            > Northern Arizona University
            >
            > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            >
            >
            >
            > ------------------------------------
            >
            > The XTalk Home Page is http://ntgateway.com/xtalk/
            >
            > To subscribe to Xtalk, send an e-mail to: crosstalk2-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
            >
            > To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to: crosstalk2-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
            >
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            >
            > Yahoo! Groups Links
            >
            >
            >



            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Bob Schacht
            ... Thanks for your extensive analysis! Bob ... [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            Message 5 of 6 , Jan 9, 2010
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              At 05:54 AM 1/9/2010, Rikk Watts wrote:
              >Hi Bob,
              >
              >Trust this finds you well (been a long while).
              >
              >Yes, I think essentially that's the point. What matters is to do the will of
              >God, not just to give lip service.

              Thanks for your extensive analysis!
              Bob

              >Given the trajectory of teaching from
              >6.20 (³your will be done on earth as in heaven²); 7.21 "not everyone who
              >says Lord, Lord, but the one who does the will of my father²); and just
              >before the pivotal parables chapter and hard on the heels of the climactic
              >Beelzebul controversy that sets the stage for it, in 12.50 doing the will of
              >the Father is now revealed: to follow Jesus, i.e. to hear and do what he
              >teaches. Cf. in this context, 15:7-9 where he takes up Isa 29:13¹s (LXX)
              >damning denunciation‹ offering God lip service while one¹s heart is far from
              >him, which in Isaiah means: doing their own thing ‹ against his opponents,
              >i.e. those who read the Law differently from him. (It should be pretty clear
              >that there¹s not much room for diversity of opinion according to Matt's
              >Jesus; but then anyone who has the chutzpah to reorient Israel's Passover
              >meal around himself and assume he has the right to change its menu clearly
              >doesn't see himself as your ordinary rabbi or even prophet; might have
              >something to do with his belief that he can forgive sins and command the
              >sea.. but be that as it may).
              >
              >By the time we get to chaps 19-22, the tension between Israel's hierarchs
              >and Jesus is right out in the open. In not welcoming him into the city,
              >based on ancient entry entry conventions on a how a king (21:5, 9) is to be
              >received, they confirm their insurrectionist status and largely seal their
              >fate. In a two sided act, Jesus thus both declares the Temple¹s unclean and
              >rebellious status which naturally according to prophetic conventions (Jer 7)
              >means it is under God¹s judgment, and hence announces its destruction
              >(21:12-13)‹as per the cursed fig-tree (21:18-22). When confronted on his
              >authority to do these things, he zeroes in (21:23-27) on their response to
              >John by asking them about their assessment of him. This makes sense to me,
              >given that John is apparently for Matt Malachi¹s prophesied Elijah redivivus
              >(17:12-13) whose task was to prepare for Yahweh¹s personal return to the
              >Temple (aside: ... so that¹s why Matt¹s Jesus behaves as he does.. whatever
              >else Jesus is also the embodiment of Yahweh¹s personal presence.. hmm).
              >Since in Malachi Elijah¹s job was to prepare that generation lest Yahweh in
              >his coming smite the land with a curse (cf. Matt¹s immediately preceding
              >Temple and fig tree incidents), it was the hierarchs¹ failure to do the will
              >of God by submitting to John¹s baptism in preparation for Yahweh¹s personal
              >coming that authorizes Jesus¹ Temple action.
              >
              >It¹s in this context that Jesus tells this story of the two sons (given the
              >present context ³son² takes on more significance; Israel was called to be
              >God¹s ³son² [Exod 4:22; cf. Deut 32:18] ‹ Israel¹s destiny turns on this
              >point). The leaders are like the sons who while saying they will do not do
              >the work of their father¹s vineyard, viz. they did not listen to John (don¹t
              >forget to include the all important v.32 ³For John...²). And immediately
              >after? The parable of the wicked tenants who did not give the owner the due
              >produce of his ... vineyard (cf. as most see Isa 5¹s vineyard song where
              >Israel is seen as God¹s vineyard who was to produce fruits of righteousness;
              >i.e. live according to God¹s will).
              >
              >So yes, the importance of doing what one will say. But more located too. If
              >Israel is going to claim to be God¹s faithful children, they need to follow
              >Jesus (at the baptism and transfiguration declared to be God¹s son) and do
              >his vision of righteousness (5:20).
              >
              >Well there¹s my two cents (or toonies) worth. Hope it¹s helpful; if not feel
              >free to chuck it.
              >
              >Best
              >
              >Rikk
              >
              > > From: Bob Schacht <bobschacht@...>
              > > Reply-To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
              > > Date: Thu, 07 Jan 2010 23:33:29 -0700
              > > To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
              > > Subject: [XTalk] Parable of the Two Sons
              > >
              > > Will some exegete please explain Matthew 21:28-31 to me? Is Jesus
              > > saying that what you do is more important than what you say? I'm
              > > often confused by such matters. I'd pull out my copy of The Five
              > > Gospels, or The Interpreter's Bible, but they're packed away.
              > >
              > > 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.
              > >
              > >
              > > Bob Schacht
              > > Northern Arizona University
              > >
              > > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              > >
              > >
              > >
              > > ------------------------------------
              > >
              > > The XTalk Home Page is http://ntgateway.com/xtalk/
              > >
              > > To subscribe to Xtalk, send an e-mail to:
              > crosstalk2-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
              > >
              > > To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to: crosstalk2-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
              > >
              > > List managers may be contacted directly at:
              > crosstalk2-owners@yahoogroups.com
              > >
              > > Yahoo! Groups Links
              > >
              > >
              > >
              >
              >
              >
              >[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              >
              >
              >
              >------------------------------------
              >
              >The XTalk Home Page is http://ntgateway.com/xtalk/
              >
              >To subscribe to Xtalk, send an e-mail to: crosstalk2-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
              >
              >To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to: crosstalk2-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
              >
              >List managers may be contacted directly at: crosstalk2-owners@yahoogroups.com
              >
              >Yahoo! Groups Links
              >
              >
              >

              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • David C Hindley
              Bob, I think you have it on the nose. The question Jesus poses is not which of the two sons was polite or insulting, but rather which son did his father s
              Message 6 of 6 , Jan 10, 2010
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                Bob,

                I think you have it on the nose. The question Jesus poses is not which of the two sons was polite or insulting, but rather which son
                did his father's "will." Many folks can attest to reacting negatively to the requests or demands of others, but upon thinking the
                matter through decides it is better to comply.

                As a reaction to criticism that JtB had attracted tax collectors and prostitutes as followers, he says that their initial disregard
                to adhere to god's commands was not as important as their ultimate decision to follow god's will. This is contrasted to people who
                paid him public praise but privately did not take his message to heart. Urging people to return to following god's will is part of
                the prophetic tradition, and I think those influenced by that tradition would think that it trumps conventions of honor-shame.

                As a result, I believe this argues against an interpretation *based* on honor-shame. At best it adds color to the analysis.

                Respectfully,

                Dave Hindley
                Newton Falls, Ohio USA


                -----Original Message-----
                From: crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com [mailto:crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Bob Schacht
                Sent: Friday, January 08, 2010 1:33 AM
                To: CrossTalk
                Subject: [XTalk] Parable of the Two Sons

                Will some exegete please explain Matthew 21:28-31 to me? Is Jesus saying that what you do is more important than what you say? I'm
                often confused by such matters. I'd pull out my copy of The Five Gospels, or The Interpreter's Bible, but they're packed away.

                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.


                Bob Schacht
                Northern Arizona University

                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]



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