Jesus said, "A man had two sons. To the first he said, 'Son, go work in the vineyard today.' He answered, ‘No'; but later he changed his mind and went. To the second he said the same. He answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which one did his father's will?"" They said, "The first." Jesus replied, "I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God's kingdom before you. For John came in righteousness and you did not believe him, but they did; and even after seeing that, you did not change your minds." - Matthew 21:28-32
Here's a story about words and deeds. Words, it says, don't equal obedience, even if you say the right thing. You could say the wrong thing and still do God's will. Words are a dime a dozen. Obedience lies in deeds.
Not necessarily. After all, righteous doers of the Word can easily become self-righteous doers of the Word, fascinated by how shiny their virtue is, enamored of their own goodness. Surely that's not obedience to God's will.
No, there's a deeper obedience this story teaches. It's not found in words, nor even in deeds, but in what Jesus says about the first son: "He changed his mind." And in the reproach he lays on his religious audience: "You didn't change yours." He's not as concerned with words and deeds as he is with reconsideration.
What Jesus approves here is convertibility—a willingness to think, and think again. You learn it by following the trail of grace to the further question, opening yourself to the counter-intuitive, swallowing pride and reversing course despite the potential for shame. It's a life-long letting go.
Obedience lies in changing your mind. Changing and changing it until, as Paul writes in Philippians, you acquire the mind of Christ, who did not cling to anything—words, deeds, or righteousness—but humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, obedient into life.
Take my made up mind, O Christ, and give me a changing mind, until by letting go, and change by change, I start to look like you.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.