The Hard Truth About Good Intentions – Part III

Hell is full of good intentions…”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153

Here is the third and last of the texts to study. We examine two parables, Jesus’ parable of the Two Sons and a parable of my own, The Parable of the Righteous Beggar.

The Parable of the Two Sons (Matt 21:28-32)

28“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29” ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” 

“The first,” they answered”.

In this case, the teaching is that God does not look at the motivation behind one’s obedience. It is enough, insofar as this parable is concerned, that one does the will of the father. Intending to obey and not following through is still disobedience. Likewise, not wanting to obey but obeying nevertheless  is counted by Jesus as obedience. In other words, motivation and intention, good or bad, is not part of Christ’s obedience calculus.

(Note: obedience, according to the biblical witness of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is a measure of faithfulness. For more on this idea click here)

A related text is Peter’s three denials of his relationship with Jesus. First, Peter insists he would never deny the LORD. His intention is pure and earnest and we have no reason to doubt him. Alas, he fails completely. Why do you think the Gospel writers deem Peter’s intention to be important?

In part, the Bible reveals to us that acts, not intentions, are the measure of fidelity, loyalty, trustworthiness. In a word, faithfulness. Peter was manifestly not faithful to his promise to Jesus. Peter’s earnest, heartfelt intention notwithstanding, Jesus judged him by his faith[fulness] and did not forgive him until he had repented and affirmed his faith in Christ three times!

Finally, I would like to conclude with a parable of my own — The Parable of the Righteous Beggar

There once was a man who, but for circumstances beyond his control, lost everything and turns to begging on the street. One day a wealthy man encounters the beggar, and after some discussion, determines that the beggar is truly in need and is not trying to hustle him. Overcome with compassion, the man not only gives the beggar what he asks for, but doubles it to $10.00. Further, recognizing the humiliation the beggar must be suffering, he puts his arm around the beggar’s shoulders, comforts him, and tells him he emphasizes deeply with the man’s plight and wishes him the best of luck.

The next day a different, equally wealthy man encounters the same beggar. After some discussion, he also concludes that the beggar is truly in need and not trying to hustle him. However, the second man’s reaction is quite different. He perceives the beggar as shiftless because he chose to beg instead of looking for work and accordingly rebukes him. Unable to look past the beggar’s appearance, his long, matted, and unkempt hair, his dirty hands, and tattered cloths he says, “Here, take $200! Get yourself cleaned up, buy some new clothes, and start looking for work. I don’t want to see you begging anymore. You are an offense to me.” With that, he turns on his heel and hurries away.

Who best expresses the teachings of the Bible generally and Jesus in particular – the first or second man?

Now, suppose, now, you ask the righteous beggar what kind of “Christian” he would most like to meet, would it be the first or the second man?

Now, go and study

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1 Response to The Hard Truth About Good Intentions – Part III

  1. Anonymous says:

    >Hi Micheal,Just wanted to say I really liked the 3 teachings. The Parable of the Righteous Beggar got me thinking. Good job.G

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