“But what think ye? A man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work to-day in the vineyard.’ And he answered and said, ‘I will not:’ but afterward he repented himself, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir:’ and went not. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
They say, “The first.”
Jesus saith unto them, “Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).
Jesus’ parable of the two sons is a rather uncomfortable parable. We find ourselves reflected in at least one of the sons.
The first son begins as the rebellious one. He dares to refuse to do the will of his father, but then realizes his mistake, and turns and does what his father desires. We can see that this son does, eventually, do the will of his father, as it is said in Matthew 21:31.
The first son demonstrates the importance of repentance and the hope that exists for those who have rebelled against God. He is very much like the “prodigal son” in Luke 15:11-32. At some point, each and every one of us refused the call of our Father and went our own way (Romans 3:23), but thanks to His love and grace, we can be reconciled back to God in Christ (Titus 3:3-7). And then we must get to work, just as the first son did (Titus 3:8)!
Yet it is the second son that is the focus of this parable. In context, it is a condemnation of the religious authorities who certainly professed belief in God and yet rejected John His prophet and Jesus His Son (Matthew 21:23-27, 21:33-46). They were willing, as the second son, to tell the Father “yes,” and yet they did not do what He told them to do!
Jesus’ conclusion is sharp and biting, just as it was intended. The people whom everyone recognized were great sinners were going to enter the Kingdom before the “holiest” and most respected religious authorities! Tax collectors and prostitutes were willing to humble themselves, listen to John and Jesus, and change their ways (cf. Luke 7:36-50, 19:1-9). The religious authorities refused!
It is better that we find ourselves to be like the first son. God is more concerned with our action than our profession– it does not do us any good to claim that we are followers of Jesus if we are not actually doing what Jesus says to do (Matthew 7:21-23, James 1:22-25)! We must never allow ourselves to become like the religious authorities and become self-righteous, for repentant sinners always get further than self-righteous hypocrites before God (Matthew 9:11-13, Luke 18:10-14)!
In the end, we cannot tell God “yes” and yet do nothing. If we tell God “yes,” that we believe in Him and that He is our Lord, and yet we do not preach the Gospel to our fellow man (Romans 1:16), or we do not show him mercy and kindness in his time of need (Galatians 6:10), or we do not encourage fellow Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25), or we do not show love and compassion as His Son did (Colossians 3:12-14), what do you think will happen to us (Matthew 7:21-23)? How can we expect to receive God’s blessings if we do not do what He tells us to do?
Who are we? Are we the first son who once refused God but have learned better and now do His will? Or are we as the second son, always willing to say yes, but in the end do nothing? Let us be as the first son, do the will of the Father, and be saved!
Ethan R. Longhenry