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Sep 24

Compliance VS Alliance

In Matthew 21:23-32, we have a very interesting exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. In this passage we see just how brilliant Jesus was in understanding the motives of those who were in opposition to his teaching, and how he was able to compassionately address the issues underlying their opposition. The Pharisees had built a relationship with God, and God’s grace expressed to them, around a reasonable belief that God had certain expectations for behavior. And, they argued, that if you wanted to stay in God’s “good graces,” you needed to abide by the rules—obey the Law. Jesus saw how law-obedience had taken the place of a repentant heart yearning for relationship with the Creator.

Here’s the passage in its entirety:

The Authority of Jesus Questioned

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The Parable of the Two Sons

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.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

I love how Jesus handles his confrontation, because the truths he employs are those used in the common therapeutic approach of trying to work with clients by forming an alliance rather than compliance.

Compliance VS Alliance. It asks the following question:

Is a relationship better built on getting you to comply with my demands (expressed obedience, which is externally focused, easily measureable and observable) or in building an alliance (a union formed for mutual benefit, working towards common goals, agreement on tasks, and the development of a personal bond made up of reciprocal positive feelings… trust, caring, respect)?

It’s alliance, right? Working together toward mutually agreed upon goals which builds a relational bond of trust and care.

Now…

Does this match up with the story Jesus tells… the parable of the two sons? The story seems to focus on commending compliance: doing what the Father in the story has asked.

Here’s the recap: Dad asks for his boys to go work in the vineyard, first one and then the other. The first son, he immediately says “No” and then repents and does what is asked. The second son says “Yes” initially, but then never does what he was asked.

Not every parable gets an interpretation or a framing for meaning like this one, but fortunately, we see what Jesus was trying to get at in the closing lines of this passage:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Jesus is, for the sake of argument, willing to accept the Pharisees assumptions about how one achieves a gracious position of right relationship with God… through obedience and compliance to God’s Law.

So, he tells this brief story of the two sons… and the punchline is that it is the son who repents and heads out to the vineyard is the one who does what the Father has asked. So, the Pharisees agree with Jesus: obedience isn’t about mentally or verbally agreeing to do what God the Father asks. This is not obedience… it is for show. It’s posturing. We can almost hear this son later, imagining him explaining to his father, “I was going to get to it… something came up.”

The openly defiant and disobedient son is the one who repents and ends up doing what the Father wants. It’s clear: God values repentance more than our best excuses.

Repentance signifies a changed heart and a desire for relationship. It’s about reunification with someone who has invited you into an alliance: a mutually beneficial relationship in which both parties can feel joy, acceptance, and belonging.

Compliance is about keeping accounts and balancing control in personal interactions. It’s the enemy of trust, because each party is always worried about how the balance of power is going to shift and preparing for the next potential confrontation.

Every day, Intermountain is working with children, teens, and adults to help them see that there is a better way to “do relationship.” We often speak of “healing through healthy relationships” for this reason. Thank you for your support of this work, and consider today how you might put the truth of seeking alliance, not just compliance, in your most significant relationships.

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