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A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe

Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, September 25, 2011

Text:  Matthew 21:28-32 – “I go, sir, but did not go.”


     Here’s the scenario:  We’re in Charles’ office.  He has asked his busy colleague, Karen, to drop by for a brainstorming session at 9 a.m.  Karen has had to cancel another appointment to make this meeting, but Charles is not there when she arrives on time.  He turns up 20 minutes late, without apology.  “Oh, there you are,” he says, accusingly, as if she’s been missing.  “Let’s get this thing on the road.”  Just as he says this, he picks up the phone and calls his wife to remind her to order some theater tickets.


     “Make sure you get aisle seats,” he tells her, “and book us at that restaurant we went to last time.  No, not that one, you remember – the one with blue shutters where they gave us the house’s best wine selection….”  By the time this is all sorted out, and Charles has checked his e-mail and in-basket Karen is due at another appointment.  “Oh, must you go?” he asks, reprovingly.  “Well, OK.  Maybe another day when you could find some time.”


     Or how about this one:  we’re at a restaurant with Jane and his husband, Peter.  They’re just finishing up dessert and on their way to a movie when Dave, one of Jane’s former boyfriends, shows up, says hello, and leaves.  Here’s the ensuing conversation between Jane and Peter:   Jane:“You’re very quiet.  Something wrong?”


Peter:   “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


Jane:    “It doesn’t have anything to do with Dave, does it?”


Peter:    “Dave?  Don’t be silly.”


Jane:     “You know, if anything is upsetting you….”


Peter:     “I’m not upset.”


Jane:     “OK, it’s nearly time for the movie.  Let’s go.”


Peter:    “No, you go ahead.  I’ve got some work to do….”


     It’s a routine that the religious authorities had down pat.  Jesus knew all about it.  It’s why he told the parable about the two sons.  It so happens, he told them, that there was a man who had two sons.  He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” 


“I will not,” said the first son, but later he changed his mind and went.


Then the father went to the second son and said the same thing.  He answered, “I will, sir,” but did not go.  Which of the two, asks Jesus, actually did what his father wanted?


     Today we have a fancy name for it.  We call it being “passive-aggressive.”  It’s when you say, “Yes, yes,” with your mouth to someone’s request, then find a thousand “innocent” ways to sabotage it.  It’s a result of being angry, but being afraid to say anything.  So you snipe.  You procrastinate.  You find excuses for delays and find fault with those you depend on.


     You’re not assertive, at least not directly.  Your passive behavior is experienced by others as punitive or manipulative.  Your weapons are forgetfulness, backhanded compliments, refusal to commit and indecisiveness.  They are the weapons of guerilla warfare.


“And the second son said, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go.”


     And they are being extolled as virtues in some quarters!  I was recently browsing through a self-help book on assertiveness training, in which the author was talking about a technique called, “fogging.”  It’s a tactic that you use when you’re being criticized.  It’s based entirely upon – of all things – agreement! 


     If, the author says, you can find anything in someone’s criticism of you that is even just partially true or if you can agree on something at least in principle or if you can agree on the basis of possibilities of it being true, then you just agree with the critique.  Here’s the drill:


“I see you’re dressed in your usual sloppy manner.”


“That’s right.  I am dressed in my usual way.”


“Those pants!  They look like you stole them from the Goodwill rack without pressing them.”


“They are a bit wrinkled, aren’t they?”


“And that shirt!  Your taste must be all in your mouth.”


“That’s probably true.  My taste in clothing isn’t one of my strong points.”


“Anyone dressing like that obviously doesn’t have much going for them.”


“You’re right.  I do have a lot of faults.”



“And the second son said, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go….”



     Being passive-aggressive, according to one columnist, is, down at its universal level, the poisonous byproduct that results when people become disconnected from, and learn to mistrust or hate, the powers that control them – government, political process, corporation, parent or partner.  Being passive-aggressive is not a grownup’s way of dealing with the world.  It’s a technique people use when they’re angry, but afraid to show it.


     The religious authorities of the people were angry with Jesus for undermining the status quo.  But they were afraid of his popularity.  They were afraid of losing their power base.  So they said, “Yes, yes,” with their mouths, but dragged their feet.  They asked leading questions.  They tried to snare Jesus in intellectual traps.  And finally, when all was said and done, it was Jesus, after all, who condemned himself and those darn Romans, who were just doing what they had to do.


     So what it comes down to for us is simply this:  if you want to say, “no,” then just say it.  At least then, like that first son, you can take responsibility for your decision and know right where you stand.  And, heck, some time down the road, you may even change your mind.


     But saying, “yes,” to the rigor of being a follower of Jesus and then ignoring the very teachings which make this possible is simply being passive-aggressive.  The irony is that Jesus will probably take you on board anyway, because following Jesus’ teachings is not a way into the Kingdom of God…



…it’s a proof that we’re already there….