14. "A Tale of Two Sons"

Matthew 21:28–32

The point of this parable is clear: what matters is living for God, not lip service. Religious leaders were good at talking a righteous walk, but their stubbornly unrepentant hearts show that repentant sinners will enter the kingdom before them. These proud religionists should have repented all the more when they saw the notorious sinners repenting, but they didn't.
Could it be that today, there are many people (even "tax collectors" and "prostitutes") who'll enter the kingdom of God before many religious people do?
As a hearty boy, which "son" are you? One who does the will of his Father? Or one who says he will, but in the end doesn't? How you respond to the commands of our Lord determines the difference.

A Tale of Two Sons — Matthew 21:28–32

God is always accepting of those who want to return and offer themselves to Him.

"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, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For 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.

The Setting of This Parable

The parable of the Two Sons (found only in Matthew) is one of a group of parables with the same theme. These are found in Matthew 21:28–22:14. This Two Sons parable is the first, followed by the Wicked Tenants (next week's parable), ending with the Wedding Banquet, which we've already studied. All share the same theme, that of the rejection of Jesus. Each of the three is seemingly aimed at the leaders of the Israelites.

This parable, along with many others, is split into two parts. The first is the actual parable of the two sons, contained in verses 28–30. This first point can be divided into the invitations followed by the responses of the father to the two sons.

The second point is the application of the parable, contained in verses 31–32. This point comes in four sub-points, which theologian Donald Hagner designates as follows;

“(a) the faithful response of the first son, (b) the faithful response of tax collectors and prostitutes, (c) the contrast between the unbelief of the Jewish leaders and the faith of the tax collectors and prostitutes with respect to John the Baptist, and (d) a repeated indictment of the Jewish leaders for their hardheartedness.” Remember: The audience to which Jesus was speaking was primarily made up of Jewish leaders and Pharisees of the day.

The Analysis of Jesus' Teaching

In Matthew’s telling of the parable, Jesus invites the listeners to interact with Him and His statement, “What do you think?” He then dives in and tells the captivating story of the father asking both of his sons to work in the vineyard. Both "figures" (sons) in the parable are compared metaphorically. You might see the father as God, the vineyard as Israel, and the two sons as the two categories of people, (1) those who obey and (2) those who do not. By the first son’s refusal to do as his father asked, he's not only disobeying, but, at the same time, showing rebellion against his father’s authority. Eventually, the first son changes his mind and obeys his father’s request.

I think that it's important to appreciate the wording given in Matthew’s account pertaining to "the changing mind" of the first son. The word given in the translation to mean “change one’s mind” also can be seen as repenting or feeling regret or remorse.

The father then moves to the second son who responds to his father’s request in a way that might remind us of Elijah’s response to God “Here am I”. The second son agreed to go. He even strengthened the affirmation of his agreement by referring to his father as "sir" (or "lord" in some translations). However, after acting in opposite ways to the first son, the second then decides not to work in the vineyard, breaking his promise with his father (Father).

Jesus then asks another question, as a follow-up to the first, of the crowd that had gathered. He asked them which son did the will of his father. Those answering were not aware of the judgment to be inflicted by what they were about to say.

The elders and chief priests answered with an "Of course, the first son was in the will of his father." Jesus continues with the correlation by expressing that those who were "righteous" didn't heed the words of John the Baptist. By rejecting John, they effectively rejected Jesus.

Jesus further insults those listening by painting a picture of “tax collectors and prostitutes” entering the kingdom before the "righteous religionists." It's important to see that by entering the kingdom before (or preceding) the Pharisees, this didn't exclude the Pharisees from entering the kingdom of God. On the contrary, they were welcome in the kingdom, as are all of God’s children.

I think that it's interesting that, even though the Pharisees may repent, “we find them at the end of the line.” Whether they'd be at the front, middle, or end of the "line" isn't really relevant here. The point is, Jesus is giving an invitation directly to those who rejected Him.

A Hearty Application

Today, it doesn't seem so strange to disobey the request of a parent. Our society is full of disobedient youngsters lacking respect for the adult figures of authority in their lives. Things were looked at in a completely different light during the time of Jesus’ ministry. The importance of the personal relationship stressed here is essential to appreciate. It helps illustrate the weight of a "child's" decision to follow the request of the father. In this parable, Jesus is condemning those who merely say but don't do. He's emphasizing the importance of faith with works. Action must match the statements of those of us who call ourselves believers.

Second chance: An encouraging aspect of this parable is the acceptance of those who may reject God at first, but in the end decide to follow the teachings of Christ. The first son rebelled against his father as many believers do today. God is always accepting of those who want to return and offer themselves to Him. Likewise, God also invites those who resemble the Pharisees to come into the kingdom. Each "child" or "son" or "Hearty Boy" has the chance to take part in God’s glory.

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