My thoughts (Keith Phillips):
Jesus loves whores and publicans. Jesus even loves Re-publicans and Democrats. So you know that Jesus loves you and me, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done!
I think the conflict, the tension, the animosity between Jesus and the religious/political leaders of his day is so sad, so unnecessary. Because Jesus loves scribes and Pharisees, too. So, why the difference in response to Jesus between, on the one hand, the whores and publicans and, on the other hand, the scribes and Pharisees?
This brief parable has, I believe, part of the answer. A father approaches his two sons, asking them to do something for him. The first one says, “Heck, no!” but then later reconsiders and does it. The second one, thinking, “I want my father to like me,” says to him, “Certainly, dad, anything you say,” but then goes on and does just as he likes, what he’s comfortable doing all along.
Scribes and Pharisees — you know, the institutional religious types — don’t seem to get it that God is always doing something new; and God needs us (or maybe I should say, wants us) to collaborate in this new thing. Institutional religious types seem convinced that the old ways are just fine: “I go to church; I sing the songs; I try not to cuss. It was good enough for my ancestors, so it’s good enough for me.”
Whores and publicans and other outcasts — you know, the types held in disdain by religious types because we simply don’t fit into their clean cut categories — recognize that there’s got to be another way, a better way, because we see that the way of the scribes and Pharisees doesn’t work; it never has. So when Jesus proclaims that the Reign of God is here now, that God unconditionally loves each of us just as we are, that God is at work everywhere in every one right now whether we know it or not, and that God wants us working together in creating a whole new world, that’s Good News.
At first it seems a little scary because no one really has trusted us outcasts much, before. So maybe, initially, we do say, “No.” But having been touched by Jesus’ love and even respect, we reconsider and become willing partners in God’s work. Religious people, always wanting to look like they’re pleasing God, say, “Yes,” but quickly settle back into old, reliable patterns: going to church, singing the songs, trying not to cuss. It’s so sad, so unnecessary. There could be so much more for them.
No, there could be so much more for us all together.
Thought for the day: Lord Jesus, you’ve chosen me to participate in your work of re-creation. I say, “Yes, Lord; yes, Lord; yes, yes, Lord!” Amen.
We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.