“What do you think? A man had two sons …”(Matthew 21:28ff)
What do you think? He didn’t. Think, that is. If you are talking to a teenage boy, he couldn’t. At least, he couldn’t “think” the way an adult thinks. The teenage male brain is not developed enough to be able to think about consequences, to “think” through all the implications of his actions. That’s why I was going 100 mph on the interstate highway with five of my high school buddies in the car. We were drag racing on I 89. What was I thinking? “I have to win this race!” That’s what I was thinking.
While the brain continues to develop beyond the teenage years, it seems many of us fail to utilize the brain’s fuller capacity for thought. Some never read a novel or non-fiction book once their formal education is over. Some never engage in conversation with people who think differently from themselves. But Jesus doesn’t let us get away with that. What do you think? When confronted by people who questioned his authority he puts a moral dilemma in front of them. A man asks his two sons to work in the vineyard. One says he will go, but he doesn’t. The other says he won’t go, but he does. Which of the two did the will of his father, asks Jesus.
I suppose it depends. Is the father’s “will” that his sons speak honestly about what they are going to do? Perhaps the first son fully intended to go, but failing to think through his day and the fact that working in the vineyard is … well, work … maybe he simply did the male teenage brain thing and simply fail to think through the full implications of what had been asked of him. Maybe he spoke before he thought. Perhaps the second son had a heightened sense of responsibility. Perhaps his response to his father was honest in that it reflected the fact that he didn’t want to work in the vineyard that day, but his conscience got the best of him.
Were the people really thinking when they heard the parable Jesus put to them? The issue was authority. What were the implications associated with how they would respond to the question – What do you think?
The situation is a bit more complicated. When asked for the source of his authority Jesus had put a question to his detractors, indicating he would respond to their question if they responded to his. Just before telling the story of the man with two sons, Jesus had asked: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? What do you think? The chief priests and elders – the folks questioning Jesus’ authority – were in a tough spot. If heaven had authorized John to baptize, why hadn’t they believed it? If the baptism was human-authorized – well, the people would be angry because so many of them had placed such high regard on John’s baptism. Caught between heaven and earth, the priests and elders “took the fifth”. We don’t know, they said to Jesus.
They might not have known for certain; but they did know what they thought and what they thought left them hanging. They were going to have to “think” at a level and intensity that had not been necessary until Jesus came along.
Our July Sermon Series on Science and Religion puts us in a similar situation. What do you think? Did God create the world, or did the universe spontaneously come into existence? And before you respond, think through the implications of your answer. At the end of the day, assuming the father’s will was that his sons go to work in the vineyard, the evidence is strong to indicate which of the two had complied. Is the power of Jesus’ words the result of the high regard so many have for him, or is there another source lending its authority to his teaching? If there is an “authority” above or beyond the human, is Jesus the only one ever to receive it, or are there others?
So often we Christians have focused on what we believe. “I believe …” – so begin our creeds. But a careful read of the gospels yields another imperative that is equal to faith: what do you think? We have to think through what we claim to believe.
Science … and Religion. From whence comes their authority?
Suzana Herculano-Houzel: What is so special about the human brain?