Updated: Jan 30
When I was a driver for U.P.S., my route was in a rural community. The town’s Main Street was on the line between two counties, so half the community was in one county, with the other half in another.
One of the counties used street numbers for all addresses, while the other county only used Rural Route addresses. That means EVERYONE who lives on one rural route road has the same address.
For example, one road was Center Hill Church Road. The Route 3 part of that road was a four-mile long road, between two state highways (which the road crossed at both ends, but was no longer Route 3). That particular stretch of road got its name because the Center Hill Baptist Church was on it, about two miles from either end.
Over that four-mile span, there were probably 50-75 houses, with each having a mailbox. The address for every one of those mailboxes was Rt. 3 Center Hill Church Rd.
That means anyone delivering packages to the people who live on Center Hill Church Road needs to know who lives in each house. That is a learning process that takes time.
One good thing about a rural community is people know most of the other people around them. So, in the hunt and peck method of learning, a driver sees someone, stops and then asks, “Do you know where so and so lives?”
You find out that one four-mile road, like Center Hill Church Road, only has about five different family names that live in about 40 of those houses. On top of that, those five families most likely sold the land that the rest of the houses were built on, so they have an idea who lives in those houses.
One family I quickly came to know owned five houses (or trailers), all on one side of the road. I first met the parents of three children, each of who lived on Center Hill Church Road. One son had a garage, which could generally be called “next door,” which was a quarter-mile down the road. Their son worked on cars in his garage, but it wasn’t like a business that was open every day, at certain hours. It was open on an “as needed” basis. The son’s mother pointed out the garage to me, and told me that he lived in the trailer just on the other side of the garage, in a stand of pine trees … next door.
I made regular deliveries to that trailer, about once a week. I eventually met the son who worked on cars, and his wife, because they would receive C.O.D packages, which the parents were not expected to pay for. Over time, I met their daughter, who was around 12 or 13 when I began learning the people of that rural community.
One day, heavy rain was pouring down. It was one of those “all day rains.” In my young history as a U.P.S. driver, I had always thanked God when it rained, because no matter how hard it rained while I was driving the package car, when I stopped to make a delivery the rain always seemed to slack off.
That was important in those days because drivers still used paper delivery record pads, on clipboards, and were required to get signatures for all deliveries. It was hard to make a ball-point pen write on wet paper.
That day I had a delivery for the man in the trailer, next door to the garage on Center Hill Church Road. It was raining when I rolled to a stop, as hard as it had been all day. Despite the pine tree cover, the rain was pelting hard on the vehicle. As I opened the bulkhead door, I thought my luck had finally run out. I was prepared to get soaked making that delivery.
However, by the time I took the package off the shelf and turned around to step back into the cab (less than 30 seconds), the teenage daughter of the man was standing in the cab of my package car, smiling, and drenched with rain. She had on no coat or hat, and she had no umbrella. She obviously saw me pull up and then she immediately ran out to meet me, unprepared for heavy rain.
I was shocked. I asked, “Why did you run out in the rain? You’re soaked.”
She said, “So you wouldn’t get wet. I don’t mind.”
I shook my head and wrote up the package info on the paper log and handed it to her to sign. She did, following my instructions … “first initial, last name.”
I thanked her and she immediately took the package, an envelope, and ran back into the pouring rain, into the trailer … soaking wet from head to foot.
About four or five years later, after I had gone into management at U.P.S. and stopped being the U.P.S. driver for that rural community, I was shocked by the news I saw on television.
That sweet girl had shot and killed both her mother and father, in that trailer. The reason was said to be because the girl was not allowed to use the father’s Mustang on a Friday night.
Because the girl was then 17, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to many years in prison for her crime.
It is a sad ending to that story.
I tell you this story because we all have been children, and many of us have children of our own, and most of those children have grown into adulthood, with some having children of their own, our grandchildren.
The readings for today focus on that element of childhood, where the point of responsibility for one’s actions is reached, after stages of growth and development having prepared us for that day.
In the Exodus story today, we read how Moses led the children of Israel into the wilderness, where they complained about their not having water to drink. Last week, they complained about not having food to eat. Rather than see them as bellyachers and complainers, we need to think of the Israelites as an infant child. We need to realize they were completely dependent on Moses, just as a baby has no means of doing anything for itself. A baby is totally dependent on the parents for life, so a baby cries when it needs something.
The baby Israelites cried. God, the Father, and Moses, the nurturer of the baby, provided for the baby’s needs. Quails and manna fed them, with Moses making water spring from rocks. Each miracle act was a natural response to the child’s demands.
It is this miracle working that makes babies see their parents as super-heroes. Caring for children creates a strong emotional bond, one that makes children believe in their parent’s abilities to teach them the truth, unconditionally.
Regardless of that blissful relationship, when children reach certain ages they get tired of being cared for and they want to be all grown up.
We did not read from the Book of Ezekiel today, but the optional alternate Old Testament reading that has been set aside for us tells of God speaking to Ezekiel in a dream, telling him to stop using the proverb, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
Most of us have heard or read that before, but few have the ability to explain what that proverb of Ezekiel means.
The Hebrew proverb that most likely fits, as the source of Ezekiel’s comparison, is: “Grapes picked too soon don’t even make good vinegar.”
Ezekiel was saying the children of Israel (and Judah) had grown into parents too soon. Because they wanted to be adults before they were ready … to make their own decisions about what was good and what was bad … they were setting their children up to fail. The parents had tasted the sour grapes of exile, with their land overrun by the Babylonians. Their children were about to bite into the sour grapes of their parents, born in a foreign land.
The immature Israelites had wanted to be like other nations; and even though God was supposed to be their king, they started making bad choices in kings and queens, to the point of losing it all. They were too young to be making grown-up decisions, but once made, if of age, you pay for the crime.
Paul, wrote to his disciples in Philippi … his children, who he had raised to become good Christians. He encouraged them to remember all the things he had taught them. Remember about the holiness of Christ, he wrote. Remember everything about Christ, because they were soon to be “of age,” when Paul would no longer be around to “father” them and they would be responsible for their own actions.
And then we read how Jesus asked the chief priests and teachers of the temple to answer which son did what the father instructed, either the lazy son who said “No,” but then went to work in the vineyard, or the lying son who gave all the right answers, only to do none of what he said he would do. They answered correctly, recognizing the lazy son was the one who actually did the will of the father.
Jesus then told those elders that sinners were closer to the kingdom of heaven than they were. They were metaphorically called the lying sons of the Father. Because of their lies, all of Judaism believed they were the children of God (as opposed to the Gentiles), as if they were still infants, too young to do anything for themselves. The people did not know how to be responsible for their sins.
Or, they acted as if they were school-age children, still learning the mistakes of their ways, thus always deserving of another chance.
Believing they were children, and not adults, would make any extreme punishment for their sins come as a shock … when tried as adults and not those cute children of God.
But all children have to grow up and take responsibility for their own actions … and inaction. The lazy son knew all the work involved in tending to a vineyard, and he did not want to work. He said what he felt, “No!”
But, then a voice inside his head spoke to him. He knew it was not a matter of choice. He had a role of responsibility to play; so he went to the fields and did the work required.
I’m sure he grumbled the whole time … but he went to work.
Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees and priests, “The tax collectors and prostitutes believed in John the Baptist.” That meant, even though they each were saying, “No!” to the right things to do, they at least heard the voice inside their heads telling them they were wrong to refuse a bath with water that symbolically cleansed them of their sins.
Feeling guilt made them closer to heaven, although they still had said, “No!” None of them had yet gone to do the work the Father instructed. Therefore, they were the same as the lying son, as far as present-time salvation was concerned.
The lying son, on the other hand, knew the work was hard and long, and felt no guilt in having none of it. He just knew lying would make it appear he was Mr. Obedience.
We are no different than those two sons of the father in that parable. At times we are lazy. At times we are liars.
But, we are no longer babies, incapable of being held responsible. We have come of age and have the freedom to do whatever we choose is best, right or wrong.
Our judgment will be fair, based on our actions.
In the Lord’s vision before Ezekiel, God mentioned how the house of Israel complained about “The way of the Lord is unfair.” God asked back, “Is it not your ways that are unfair?”
God then said the punishment for iniquity will be harsh. He advised, “Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!”
God ended by saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone. Turn, then, and live.”
Be adults. Be all grown-up; but as Paul encouraged his teenager Christians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
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