In this series of articles we have been considering several of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom – a subject that frequently left His disciples confused and His enemies infuriated. Today, we will consider the parable of two sons who each responded differently to their father’s command to work. Jesus Christ presents this story in Matthew 21:28-32.

Are you all talk?

“But what do you think?” It is interesting to see how our Lord begins this story. It seems quite clear that Jesus never viewed His audiences as stupid, but as intelligent people with, at the very least, the capacity and ability to think about spiritual concepts. “A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.” A few translations still place this son second in the parable, describing the other son first. In any case, this man had two sons with very different perceptions of obedience. This first son had a rebellious streak in him, being unwilling at first to obey his father’s request. Indeed, the command was not unreasonable, for we can all see that if a young man is going to live under the roof of his father, then it is only fair for that father to expect the son to carry his load of daily chores. Being a contemplative person, though, this son regrets his former rudeness and chooses to obey the father without saying a word.

“The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sire’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:30). The second son was one who only appeared to be obedient on the outside. He said the right things and made himself verbally obligated to go to the work. However, in the end he chose to disregard both the command of the father and his own acceptance of responsibility. And which of these two actually ended up being obedient? The one who spoke well and lied or the one who acted rudely and repented?

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes [a]will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him” (Matthew 21:31-32). In the conclusion to this parable, Christ explains that the supposedly righteous people of Israel – those who spoke well but lived with very little substance – were not worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Even beyond that, Christ indicates that prostitutes and tax collectors were more likely to make it than them.

  • We must be careful not to misapply this verse, though; Jesus is not intimating that unrepentant sinners would go to heaven. Rather than giving a free ticket to the prostitutes of the world, He actually means that they need to stop sinning.
  • Like the rude son who disobeyed at first, the prostitutes and tax collectors still needed to repent and turn from their evil ways. But there is more hope for a truly repentant person than for anybody who only claims to live righteously and does not believe he needs repentance.
  • We need to ask ourselves if we have backed up our “big promises” to God!
  • We also need to make sure that repentant individuals are not treated as second-class Christians. After all, it is the truly repentant son who made his father happy, not the one who ignored the commands. Sometimes, the worst people in the world become Christians and end up making “longtimers” look lukewarm.