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I am excessively distracted by Twitter. There are so many crazy things going on. Kevin M Young, for example, is busily arguing that the Tax Collectors and Prostitutes who came into the Kingdom of Heaven stayed that way. Of course, we all knew that was the sort of thing he believed, but I can’t remember him saying it that baldly before. Just to give you a taste of the discourse, he said this:

Jesus literally says that “tax collectors” and “sex workers” ARE ENTERING the Kingdom of God before the pious religious folk. Not FORMER tax collectors & sex workers. Not WILL enter. Present tense. They have repented & are STILL tax collectors and sex workers. Matt.21:31-32

And then this:

MATTHEW 21:31-32 —  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.’”

When someone sensible pointed out that those people had all repented, on account of how John the Baptist had baptized them for the forgiveness of sins, which is why Paul says “such were some of you” which is what Kevin M Young is trying to refute, he, Kevin, said this:

Yeah, you are going to have to read more of the Matthew 3 passage about Jon’s repentance. It is quite clear in the texts what Metanoia looks like. That John passage spells it out clearly TWICE in regard to what metanoia looks like.

Later in the thread—I started to get lost in the maze of foolishness—responding to someone, he tweeted this:

The OP literally mentions repentance. Y’all. Come on. Read.

And this:

You embrace sin every day, Steve. I literally see you do it here. Stop defining sin and repentance in ways that give you a pass and not others.

From thence, things appeared to devolve into the depths. What I like is how Kevin M Young, in all his bandying about of scripture, left off the part about the two sons and their father. You might remember how the story played out. “What do you think,” said Jesus, “A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the sons did the will of his father?’” The Twitterers, a la Kevin M Young—I’m sorry, Dr. Kevin M Young—roundly scratched their heads and wondered to themselves of what Jesus was speaking.

We, of course, may see that here is a broken situation. Of the father’s two sons, one has all the appearance of goodness, of doing whatever his father might require, but then, when the rubber meets the road, when it is time for the hoe to cut into the hard ground, when someone must wield the ax at the root of the rotting tree, he turns out to be a failure. Likewise, there is a son who is openly rebellious, who, when his father tells him to do something, outright refuses without any hesitation, who is contemptuous, who brings shame upon the head of his father, who never wonders if maybe he is wrong.

Both of these sons are bad, I feel we should notice. What does it mean to be bad? A “sinner” if you will? Progressive Twitterati are excessively confused on this point, for they depend on the category of “bad” in order to compose intelligible tweets, and yet they cannot allow that same appellation to fall anywhere near their own spiritual assumptions. They want the sex worker to keep her work, and yet to anathemize the person who coherently interprets the Bible. In this way, we who read these tweets must suffer the very irony Jesus himself is illuminating in this pithy little story–that the person who believes himself to be good already will not humble himself to enter the kingdom of God, will not leave behind the slavery of sin and death for the freedom that comes through redemption.

But the parable of the two sons, you have already noticed, is not the gospel reading for today. For that, we have to leap to near the end of John, to later in the same week of Jesus’ life. He is in the Upper Room with the eleven. Judas has crept away to betray him to the Chief Priest. The remaining disciples are cast down, confused, and, as the minutes go by, grief-stricken. What would a progressive poster on the X app want Jesus to say at this point? I imagine the expectation would be affirmation and “unconditional” acceptance, as if any one of us could fully understand the sort of conditions Jesus is about to undergo. You remember what he says, though–“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Thus we are transported right back to that vineyard, to that father standing there with those two sons. Their family is, we observed, a wreck. How did a father end up with two such children? Did he do something wrong? Maybe he was too strict. Maybe he wasn’t strict enough. Perhaps he forced his two sons to attend a Christian school which later embarrassed them when they wanted to get a job with NPR. Whatever the case, any reasonable person in the year of our Lord 2024 would blame the father for having the sons, and then telling them to do anything.

And yet, observe also that the eleven clustered around Jesus in the night, looking over the abyss of grief and dismay, are also bad. They will all of them flee. Peter will deny the Lord, his friend, the one who called him to be his own. They will not even stay awake to pray.

Knowing this, it seems, perchance, unkind of Jesus to say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” They have not and will not keep his commandments—not in the hours of the night when he is betrayed into the hands of wicked men. And yet he says it.

Love, for all who are so horrifically confused on this matter, is the ground of obedience. Obedience to the commands of the Lord, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the One in whom the whole cosmos is held together, who is the Word made Flesh, is the manifestation of love. It is the strange action of saying, perhaps even with anger, “No, I will not go into the vineyard,” and turning away, but yet discovering the calamity of not merely rejecting an unpleasant task, but reviling the Person, the One who has a cosmic, eternal, holy justified right to say anything about what you should do or say. That discovery is so powerful, so alarming, that it causes the person to turn around and do the very thing he could never, before, have countenanced—obey.

The tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners were thus, in that present hour, going straight to the vineyard without pausing to even explain what or why their minds had been changed. To go in, of course, to work, to obey the Father is first and foremost to repent of the sin that had so destroyed the relationship in the first place. Obedience, whether premeditated or snatched at the last minute, is the mark of the sinner’s love and gratitude for Christ, who forgave the sin by going to death, even death on a cross.

Obedience is so out of fashion today. Bending your will, your mind, your actions, and your heart to another, let alone God, is not something Meta AI or Grok or Chat GPT can possibly recommend. You must reign supreme, for that is what it means to “flourish.” You may give lip service to God, I suppose—sure, I’ll go into the vineyard—but you must not actually do anything that God commands. You must not be humble. You must not beg him for help. You must not try to remain sexually pure. You must always follow your heart wherever vile place it leads you. You must not be governed by the Scriptures. You must not honor your parents if they have voted the wrong way. You must not discipline your own children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And most of all, you must be careful not to speak the truth with a rough tone, for that would be unkind and very very very bad. Lyricize the vineyard and the Father, by all means, but “keeping his commandments” will classify you as a bigot, so don’t go there.

In these latter days, while it matters what you profess with your lips, for sure, it will nevertheless be your public obedience to the commands of your Lord that shows you and the world who you love. For surely some AI bot will come along and put words in your mouth that you would never say, or perhaps you might misspeak. Or maybe you will become confused. Who knows. It is possible to make a wreck of things on account of how you are a sinner. But your love? Your halting, strange, embarrassing obedience? Your persistent, sometimes exhausting work in the vineyard, your constant confession of your sins, your decreasing so that he might increase, your clinging to the Church against all odds? This is the happiness of the Father discovering that his son, who he thought was lost, was there after all, clumsily picking grapes and trying to make some mediocre wine out of them.

And now, if you will excuse me, I have to go to church. Hope to see you there!

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