That’s what you say, preferably with a smile. If you can’t manage a smile, at least don’t roll your eyes or sigh heavily, no matter what you’re asked to do. Set the table? Yes, ma’am. Fold these towels? Yes, ma’am. Snap these beans and pull those weeds?
Yes, ma’am in my family meant respect. I can’t quite picture how the scene from today’s Gospel reading might have played out at my grandma’s house with my sister and me. “Go on out and work in the vineyard.” Of course, we’d have said yes, ma’am! But what if we didn’t? What if we refused her request to her face?
She called it “acting ugly,” and we all knew what she meant even though she never told us. If we looked like we might argue back, she’d raise her eyebrows and say, “Are y’all acting ugly?” That was normally all it took. We straightened up and did what she asked, and no one mentioned it again.
The second son in today’s Gospel would fit right in with the polite, face-saving, Southern culture of my childhood. He tells his father, “Yes, sir,” and even though he ends up not following through, everyone is satisfied for the moment. But the first son, ornery boy, tells his father straight out that he will not go and do as he’s told. (Matthew 21:28-29) His father must have been furious! How dare his son embarrass him by defying him that way?
We aren’t told what happens to make the sons change their minds. It’s easy to imagine the second son’s situation. How many times do we say “yes” with every good intention? Then life gets busy, or we forget, or a child gets sick or a car breaks down and we just can’t meet the obligation after all.
But what should we make of the first son, the one who refused and then later decided to show up? He was rude to his father! Yet he was the one who did right, because he changed his mind and followed his father’s instructions.
Jesus is probably not giving us a pass on good manners, here . . . but this story reminds us that what we say is only part of the picture. What we do matters, too. And if we catch ourselves “acting ugly” in the face of an unpleasant task, we can always change our minds and do the right thing.
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Lord, help me to both say and do “yes” to what you ask of me.
Abbey Dupuy writes her life as a homeschooling mama of four frequently barefoot children. She muses about imperfect parenting, practicing gratitude, and celebrating the liturgical year with her young family on her blog. In her spare time, she enjoys running, gardening, coffee, and cookbooks, not usually at at the same time. You can find out more about her here.