Adult Bible Study – “MIXED MESSAGES”

At the age of two, little David already knows the power of “no.” Each time he is asked to do just about anything, he responds with a resounding “no.” Mom and Dad expect this. They understand the terrible two’s. Despite his tantrums, the usually concedes to their wishes without serious consequences. His “no0” is not so insistent that it jeopardizes his relationship with his parents

By the time David is an adolescent, “no” will still be an option for him, but uttered under different circumstances. His rebellion has become an outgrowth of his surging hormones, teenage independence, his distain for authority, and his newly found freedom of choice. Despite his parent’s frustration over his apparent lack of respect, this to will eventually pass as he grows and matures. Any damage to their relationship is repairable.

David grows up, well almost. Hopefully he never loses his desire for independence, but his propensity for pure insolence is muted by his growing awareness of the advantages of cooperation and his need to be accepted and feel he belongs. He recognizes that selfish pride and rebellion get in harm’s way when building personal relationships. David becomes painfully aware that mature people make judgments about each other’s integrity based mostly on what one does, not on what one says he/she is going to do. Still, David encounters occasional discrepancies between what he says and what he does. His relationships with others are affected by these mixed messages. So also is his relationship to God.

Reading from the Scriptures: Matthew 21:28-31
Always aware of our human tendencies and inclinations, Jesus draws parallels between how we behave toward each other and how we respond to God. He knows we are a rebellious people. In this short story about two sons (Matt. 21: 28-30), Jesus tells about two sons who react in contrasting fashion to a request from their father. By inference, the reaction of each son parallels the reaction we often make when asked to commit to God. We reply with mixed messages, ambiguous responses, and a lingering sense of rebellion that clouds our true intentions. Why is that we cannot seem to say what we mean and mean what we say when it comes to making commitment s to God or to each other?
“A father went to the oldest son and said, ‘God work in the vineyard today.’
His son told him he would not do it, but later changed his mind and went.
The father then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy
Said he would go, but he didn’t go. Which of the sons obeyed his father?”

The differing responses of each son characterize not only the confused responses we make to our faith commitments, but to our human obligations as well. Subjected to mixed messages, we often experience great difficulty deciphering between saying what we mean and meaning what we say. Despite that our actions speak louder than our words, we continually “shout out” a different message. Our actions are the basis upon which we judge all our relationships – human and divine

An examination of the story of the two sons presents the Christian with many possibilities and teachable moments. The following are questions to review as you consider the circumstances of the scripture:
• How would you answer the question posed in the text, “Which one did what his father wanted?”
• Jesus is often asked questions about “who” (Who are my neighbors? Who did what the father wanted?). He usually responds by talking instead about “how” (How do you act neighborly? How do you do what your father wants?). What is Jesus trying to tell us?
• What does Jesus mean when he says to the chief priests and leaders, “You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will” (Matthew 21`:31)?
• What did the father want the sons to do? What is the spiritual significance of this encounter?

For Your Thought and Consideration.

The story of these two sons provides a great jumping off point for the Christian educator to begin some “values clarification.” It is a story that is charged with insinuation and innuendo, providing much fodder for debate and consideration. It pits “righteous conduct” against “empty platitudes.” It raises issues about intention, commitment, and integrity.

I suspect that Jesus intends for the story to call into question the hypocrites who claim allegiance to God with their words, but not with their actions. But, because he uses real people under real circumstances, the story also opens doors for examining integrity as a condition for making and maintaining human relationships. I suspect Jesus knew this already. He seems always to be drawing connections between how we treat each other and how we treat God. Since it is so difficult to keep commitments to each other, how much more difficult is it to keep commitments to God?

• Rebellion seems to be an attitude we can’t shake regardless of our age or stage in life. It seems so easy for us to “sin,” but so difficult to admit to doing so. Why do you feel people have such an east conscious making mistakes but find it so difficult to admit to them?
• Our mixed messages often hide our true intentions. Perhaps we deliberately intend to confuse because we want to hide something. What we say gives a first impression. What we do gives a lasting impression. Talk about the time(s) you intentional diverted your intentions by what you said that contradicted what you did.
• Talk about the time(s) when you knew the right thing to do but chose the “other” thing instead. Why did you choose differently? What were you hiding?
• When have you said “yes” but meant “no?” Explain your actions.
• Write an epitaph – a word or phrase by which you want people to remember you after you are gone.
• When you regret what you agreed to do but haven’t done what should you do?
• Discuss the difference between “who you are” and whose you are.”
• What do you look for when considering making new friends? How do you want new friends to judge you?
• Discuss ways you feel that God acts as a model for how you make and maintain relationships.

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