The Parable of the Two Sons–a Modern Midrash

A story for all ages that I wrote to complement the sermon I gave on James Luther Adams’ fourth stone of liberal religion: no immaculate conception of virtue and the necessity of social incarnation.  It was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on 14 March 2010 (c).  This is based on the parable from Matthew 21: 28-32.

Once upon a time, there was a family that was known through out the town for their goodness. This family was held in high esteem by everyone. If there was ever a dispute between neighbors, this family was able to find a solution that worked for both parties. If there was ever a need in the community, this family was able to support the filling of that need. This was a good family. They believed that actions that resulted in the expansion of good were important in order to have a wonderful and loving community.

Now there were two sons in this family of roughly the same age. Wherever they went, they met people who told them what a good family they came from. Hearing these things made them feel good.

In school, the teachers would tell them, “Jason and Bryan, you come from such a good family. We know your grandfather, what a good man he is. He has been so very helpful to the community. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have clean water here because he found a way to purify the wells that were contaminated.” Their grandfather was head of the city health department and made sure that the city had clean water.

The school’s foot ball coach would say, “Bryan and Jason, I know your father. He is such a good man. Why if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have a decent volunteer firehouse with a Hook and Ladder truck.” Their father was a volunteer firefighter and helped organize the community to raise the money for the truck to ensure they were ready in case the taller buildings had a major fire. One such fire happened and because they had a Hook and Ladder truck they were able to prevent a tall building from burning to the ground. More importantly the fire fighters were able to save a family that was trapped on the upper floors.

There was another time when a complete stranger came up to them and said, “Aren’t you Elizabeth’s sons?” They shook their heads, yes. “Well, your mom is one of the finest women in town. She helped my children have access to the town library because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible. You see, my two children were born with physical disabilities and they are unable to walk. But your mom worked with the library and the city to find the money to put in ramps to enable my children and other children like mine to use the library. I am so glad to have met you fine young men.”

Everywhere Bryan and Jason went there were accolades given to their family about all the good things their family did for others. The stories of how their family made the community better for others continued to be told. And in time Bryan and Jason came to believe that they were good simply because they came from a good family.

Then one day something happened at school. Bryan and Jason told their parents about it. There were two girls who wanted to go to the school dance as a couple and were told that they could not go; only boy/girl couples could go. Their parents asked them if it was fair that a girl couple be denied to attend the dance. After some discussion, their parents asked Jason and Bryan if they would be willing to start a petition to give to the school board requesting these girls to be allowed to go to their dance. Jason said he would not because he didn’t want to be made fun of by his football team. Bryan said he would do it. But Bryan did not start the petition. He decided he didn’t care if two girls could go to the prom or not after all it didn’t affect him any.

Jason begin to think of his grandfather’s work with getting clean water, his father’s work on having a fire truck, his mother’s work on having wheelchair ramps at the library. He remembered all these good things that his family did to help others and so he changed his mind and began the petition after all. Jason reasoned that if the school could tell two girls they couldn’t go to the school prom, what else would they do to keep people from being themselves? On Saint Patrick’s Day would they keep him from wearing the green plaid kilt his aunt bought him in Ireland to honor his Irish heritage?

So Jason circulated the petition. Teachers, students, and community members signed it. He received so many signatures that the school board decided to allow the girls to go to the dance as a couple.

Now sometimes, Bryan gets asked if Jason is his brother. When he tells them yes, he is told, “Jason is a fine young man. He stood up to fight an injustice in the school. If he hadn’t done that, then girl couples and boy couples who wanted to go to the dance would not be allowed. He is a good man just like his parents and grandparents.”

Bryan tells them that he initially wanted to help with the petition and that Jason did not. They reply, “But did you act on your good intention?” No, Bryan would shake his head. They would sigh and say, “Good intentions mean nothing; it is good actions that make a difference.”

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 5:28 pm  Comments Off on The Parable of the Two Sons–a Modern Midrash  
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Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase that means to repair the world.  It has also been translated to mean to heal the world.  It is a responsibility that every Jew is to participate in as part of living their faith.   Unitarian Universalists also call upon its members to do their part to repair the world.  We sometimes call our activities social action or social justice, or social outreach.  There may be other names that we call this when a congregation decides to do something together as a congregation to help better the world in which we live.  

What I see as necessary for the church when doing social justice work is to be fully engaged.  It is to be offering opportunities where members can engage the work fully with their whole beings.  I see lots of congregations where their main outreach effort is to knit hats and gloves for the homeless.  This is a very good thing to do, but it is only one piece of doing social justice work. Providing knit hats does not do much to change the status of the homeless.  They remain homeless.  A tad warmer perhaps on those blustery winter days but they remain without shelter. Knitting hats is step one. There is more that a congregation can do to make a difference in the lives of the homeless.  There are other ways in which to engage the congregation.

But what if the real purpose for being involved in social justice work is to have the lives of the members of the congregation transformed through the living of their values on behalf of helping someone else achieve justice.  I recently read an article from the good folks at The Alban Institute.  The article is “What is the Mission of “Missions” by Dan Hotchkiss.   He writes that many churches and synagogues “have found it fruitful to reframe their social mission from ‘We serve the needy,’ to ‘We transform our members into Christian disciples who live lives of service.’ It is a small but important shift. Some existing outreach ministries continue without change. But the criteria for initiating, evaluating, staffing, and funding social ministry change quite a bit. For instance, if our main goal is to change our members’ lives, we will not be satisfied to write a check from the church treasury. We would prefer to send some of our people along with it so they can engage in the kind of service that may change their lives.”

Living our values in the volunteer work that we do is an important aspect of being Unitarian Universalist.  Some may only be able to knit hats, but others can add to the provision of hats with making relationships with the homeless by volunteering at the soup kitchen or assisting to staff the shelter.  Still others can add their talents to building Habitat for Humanity homes or building interfaith coalitions to work on developing transitional housing opportunities or affordable housing complexes.  Together, each of these aspects of social justice work begin to change the landscape of the community in which we live for the better.  Together the stories of doing all these actions can and should be shared with one another to weave awareness of the tapestry of efforts being done that the whole congregation can point to and reflect on together when discussing their congregational values.

Gandhi is oft quoted for saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Tikkun Olam begins with our being the healing we want to see in the world.  Blessings.

Published in: on May 28, 2008 at 2:32 pm  Comments Off on Tikkun Olam  
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