One of the things that I love about studying Jesus’ ministry is the way that He would teach. Many times He would use parables to illustrate truths in a way that anyone could understand. This was so helpful to bring the truth of God in a way that anyone who heard it – religious or irreligious, royal or common, literate or illiterate – could get the most out of it.
In Matthew 21, as Jesus is talking with the chief priests and elders of the city, He shares a parable to illustrate a very important point.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go work in the vineyard today.’ “He answered, ‘I don’t want to’ but later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered, but he didn’t go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:28-31 CSB)
Jesus tells this parable of two sons and their response to their father’s instructions to illustrate how true believers in Christ are to do. It is interesting to me that the request was the exact same from the father towards each of his sons: “go into the vineyard and work.” The difference came in the way that each fully responded to the father.
The first son that was approached by the father was the one who told his father, “NO!” (Matthew 21:29) This son may have better things to do. He may have not liked the request because it didn’t fit into the plans and directions that he had for his life. In fact, the CSB translates this son’s response as “I don’t want to…” Whatever the case was, this son was not happy with the father’s request and initially turns it down to go about his own way.
The second son is approached by the father with the same request. This son’s response seems a more like what you would expect. It was one of politeness… it was one of respect. This son replies, “I will, sir.” I think adding the sir on the end was a nice touch. When one has manners like this, they have to be the hero in this story, right?
As Jesus concludes His parable, the reader/listener does not have to wait long to see what He is trying to teach here. The issue is not so much what we say, but it is all about what do we do. If you look closely, you see that the first son (“I don’t wanna”) actually has a change of heart and makes his way out to the vineyards. The second son (“I will, sir”) turns from his father and goes on about his merry way never giving the vineyards a second thought. He had no intentions of doing what his father had asked of him. He just wanted to say the right things.
Jesus finishes this parable with a question: “Which of the two did the father’s will?” (Matthew 21:31) The chief priests and elders of the community answered, “the first son” (the one who actually did what the father told him to). This was the correct answer, but Jesus shared that in a very interesting manner.
Jesus warned these leaders that He was talking with that tax collectors and prostitutes were getting into the Kingdom of God before they would. It is important to remember that this conversation was taking place in the temple. It could be safely assumed that the conversation was being watched and listened to by many bystanders. What do you imagine was the reaction was when everyone heard Jesus say that tax collectors and prostitutes (some who were seen as the worst of the worst) were getting into God’s kingdom before the chief priests and people of great respect and honor?
How could Jesus say such a thing? The reason He could say this is because it was the truth. These “sinners” that Jesus spoke of were the ones that were hearing the message of the Father and though there were times in the their lives where they had told God “NO!”, they had felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit and were turning to God in faith and repentance. The priests and elders were talking a good game and looking good on the surface, but their professions were empty.
Jesus shows that when it comes to following God and being His people, it is much more than just some words that we recite in a prayer one time with a preacher at an altar… it is about faithful action day in and day out. It’s like the prophet Samuel tried to warn King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice”.
What is it that God has said for you to do – things you may have even said “I will, sir” to – but you have not gotten around to actually doing it yet? The one that pleases the Father is the one who actually obeys.