Some people struggle to ever make a commitment in the first place, but once they do, are able to muster the discipline and enthusiasm to honor it. Others seem to have less trouble coming to a decision, but then have trouble following through. Many of us fall somewhere in between. To all of us imperfect disciples, Jesus addresses the question, "Which of you is doing the will of the Father?"
The "will of the Father" is a phrase that occurs several times in Matthew's gospel.
It appears in Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer, which Jesus teaches to the disciples, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt. 6:10).
At the very end of the Sermon on the Mount where, in Matthew's Gospel, the audience is the disciples, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven" (Mt. 7:21).
When Jesus' family comes to speak with him, Jesus makes the comment, "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (12:50).
When the disciples come to him with questions about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus challenges their arrogance, instructing them that they will never enter the kingdom of heaven unless they become humble like a child (Mt. 18:3). Jesus tells them the parable of the Lost Sheep, concluding with this saying: "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost" (18:14).
When Jesus is praying in the Garden in Gethsemane, he says to God, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Mt. 26:42).
Keeping those texts in the back of our mind helps us understand just what Jesus is asking of us when he asks the question. "Which of you is doing the will of my Father?" He is asking several questions at once:
- Are we participating in the kingdom of God, not yet, but already arrived? (Mt. 6:10
- Are we committed to active response and obedience to God and not just lip service? (Mt. 7:21)
- Thereby are we becoming a member of Jesus' spiritual family? (Mt. 12:50)
- Are we showing a commitment to saving the lost and excluded? (Mt. 18:14)
- Are we willing to sacrifice when necessary, on behalf of the kingdom? (Mt. 26:42)
- Which of us is doing the will of God?
In the unfortunate mental lapse with which I began this entry, I said I'd do something intending to do it, forgot because I was preoccupied with other things, was reminded, and then did it. A better choice would be to eliminate the "forgot because I was preoccupied with other things" part. A better choice would be to say, I'll do the will of God, focus on doing it and do it.
The best choice would be to be preoccupied with doing the will of God rather than anything else. I'm thankful to Matthew for preserving this brief parable of the Two Sons. It's his way of writing our obligation down for us so we don't forget.
Barbara E. Reid, Parables for Preachers, The Gospel of Matthew, Year A(Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2001)