God calls us to get our hands dirty, work in vineyard

Published 2:17 am Saturday, October 14, 2017

By the Rev. Cindy Howard

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read a parable that Jesus told during the last week of his life on earth. It is about a man who had two sons. He sent the first son to work in his vineyard; but the son refused to go, then later changed his mind and headed for the vineyard. Not knowing this, the father sent his other son to do the work his brother had refused to do. This son said he would go, but then changed his mind and never set foot in the vineyard.

At the end of this brief story, Jesus asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

Now those who were listening knew the answer to the question. Both of the sons had in essence been untruthful to the father, but one changed his mind and went to work while the other never quite followed through. The faithful one, the one who did the father’s will, was the son who changed his mind and headed for the vineyard to work.

If we are honest, we know like the second son we can be in danger of saying “Yes, Lord, I’ll do what you ask,” which can be so easy to say, and not actually doing what the Father asks, which can be ever so difficult.

There are two things that I believe this parable can teach us. First, the longer I am a Christian, the more I am convinced that God is not particularly impressed by our perfectly expressed doctrine and eloquent words about what we believe. But rather, I am more convinced that God is concerned with what we actually do. God is concerned about whether we go to work in the vineyard.

A few chapters after this story in Matthew’s Gospel, as Jesus moves even closer to the cross, he tells us that the basis for the final judgment will be whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stronger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner. Jesus tells us that God is most concerned about whether we actually get our hands dirty in his vineyard. Jesus knows that our actions speak louder than our words, echoing down through eternity. The faithful son was the one who actually went to work in the vineyard, not the one who talked about doing it.

The second lesson from this parable is that God seems to be willing to give us a second chance to do what God asks of us. We may say “no” at first, but we can change our minds; and God seems to accept our obedience on the same terms as if we had said “yes” right away. God’s mercy is great; and God’s future continues to be open to us, no matter what we have done or left undone in the past.

God sends us to work in the vineyard. What will our response be? Not what will we say, but what will we do?


The Rev. Cindy Howard is the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.