We have set up the context for the next two parables in Part 1.
Jesus will teach on two sons and a landowner. Jesus has entered Jerusalem triumphantly. He is now in the Temple (the Pharisees' ultimate turf) and He is being grilled by them as to His authority to do and to teach what He does.
In light of this, He teaches this parable:
“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.’
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.
He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
'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. 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.'" (Matt. 21:28-32)
Jesus uses a lot of father/sons parables. If He is willing to call the Almighty, "Father," then He needs to show what that means. His parables are perfect for that, for everyone can relate to family stories. The father in this parable gently commands his first son to go to work. Vineyards take a lot of work; as any farmer will tell you, there is always something to do.
The first son is unwilling to be initially obedient. He is honest in his response, but as a son, it is a disappointing response. This is not just any employer; it is his father that he is saying "No" to.
So, the son's response reverberates deeper. Why did he tell his father, "I will not"? He didn't say that he was unable to do the work, or that he is too busy to do it or that he is too good for such labor; he says he won't do it. It is his choice not to do it.
Why do we choose to disobey God? Does this son feel that he can't please his father? That whatever he does will not pass muster? The fact that the father asked him in the first place indicates that the father has confidence in his abilities. Otherwise, the father could go out and hire workers. But, the father gives his son the job: for the father trusts the son, even if the son is unsure of his abilities.
So, the first son, having giving it some thought, changes his mind. Why?
Dad asked me to do the work today. He didn't indicate he was going to show me what to do; he trusts that I know what to do. He trusts that I know enough to do well enough. His vineyard is important to him; he trusts me to go in and work. Wow. I sorta thought he didn't even consider me worthy enough to head in there and do what needs to be done. But he does. I don't want to let him down. I'll go!
Away he goes. Perhaps the father knew that as well--the son's lack of confidence would initially stop him from going, but with a little love shown his way, his son would perk up and go.
The father asks the next son. This son sounds eager and obedient, but his heart is neither. He complies, but then will not go.
Dad asked me to work today. How come? I don't like all that dirt. The bugs drive me nuts, swarming around my head. The sun is hot and I get tired. Isn't being his son good enough? There are workers out there he could hire. I am not just any 'ole worker--I am his son. I sure wish he'd treat me like one. I get certain privileges as his son, and I don't see getting dirt under my fingernails as one of them. So, yeah, I said yes, but why do it? I am a son, not a servant, and I need to act like one; even if my father forgets, I don't!
Of course, the question is answered correctly by the Pharisees--the first son is the one who did what his father wanted. The son's actions portray his heart.
The Pharisees must be happily associating themselves with this first son.
We obey, Rabbi Jesus. OK, we may grumble here and there, but at least we get out and do the work.
Jesus quickly interrupts their reverie by unpacking the parable for them. John the Baptist was clearly chosen as the Messiah's forerunner, to show the people the "way of righteousness." The very bottom of society--the ones who think they are not worthy to go into the vineyard--are going in. Why? They changed their minds. They caught a glimpse of the truth that they are the sons and daughters of God, and that is why he invited them in. Not because of what they have done, but because of who they are.
The society labels them "sinners."
The Father labels them "sons and daughters."
These folks took hold of John's words and saw Jesus as the Lamb Who takes away the sins of the world. They came to be baptized by John. They were willing to have their sins cleansed and then enter into a new way of seeing themselves. They went into the vineyard because of their Father's invitation. The Kingdom of God is a place for sons and daughters, and the people's willingness to enter in show their willingness to see themselves as God sees them.
Wow! Now, to the next son, who really sports the attitude of the Pharisees. They outwardly act like sons, but are not willing to see what the Father is really doing. They have figured God out, and have boiled down the relationship to rules and regulations. The Pharisees didn't see the people flocking to John as Heaven's gates swinging wide open, but as an affront to their neat and orderly way of serving God. It was an affront to their way. But, God's way was right in front of their eyes. They refused to see this.
Their way didn't include sinners walking in forgiveness and freedom. Their way wouldn't have showered the status of sons and daughters upon such low-lifes...that title was reserved for those He favored, which, of course, meant the Pharisees.
Let's look at the blueprint of God's Kingdom, found in Isaiah 61. (Incidentally, Jesus read this very scripture to inaugurate His ministry):
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to
grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of
a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the
planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.…"
Sons listen to their Father. Sons obey out of a sincere heart.
Daughters enter His presence with joy and thanksgiving. They serve because of love.
They may feel unworthy at first, but they changed their minds. Why? It is the Lord's kindness that leads us to repentance. No one ever entered the Kingdom by rules and regulations...a lesson the Pharisees had yet to learn.