The parable of the two sons is found only in Matthew’s gospel. It is a very simple yet profound parable and can be summarized in the familiar words of James, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” James 1:22.
The parable teaches that the person who refuses to do what is asked of him but who repents (changes his mind) and does the task is better than the one who promises to do what is asked of him but never does it.
While teaching in the temple courts with the chief priests and elders still in the audience, Jesus continued the trend of thought with a story about a father and his two sons.
The father needed work to be done in his vineyard. What the work was is not important only the response of his two sons.
The father went to his first son and told him to go work in the vineyard that particular day. The son answered, “I will not”; but later regretted it and went.
The father then went to the second son with the same request in order to get the work done in the vineyard. This son was very compliant and said to his father, “I will, sir”; but he did not go.
Jesus asked the self-righteous chief priests and elders, “which of the two sons did the will of his father?” They said, “the first.”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into thekingdom of God before you.”
INTERPRETATION OF THE PARABLE
The meaning of the parable of the two sons is to be found in the answer to the question Jesus puts directly to His audience, “Who was the obedient son?”
Jesus said, the first son represents the tax collectors and the prostitutes who were living a sinful life and who refused to do the will of God. But when John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance from sin, many of the social and moral outcasts of society repented, believed on Christ as the coming Messiah, and entered the kingdom of God. Thus they did the will of the Father.
The second son portrays the attitude of the self-righteous religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They are the ones who practice their righteousness before men, to be seen by them.
John the Baptist came to them showing them the way of righteousness through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, the Lamb of God but they did not do what he said. They simply ignored him.
They saw, however, that the tax collectors and prostitutes accepted John’s message and were baptized. But not seeing themselves as sinners and in need of forgiveness and righteousness they rejected John’s message for themselves and refused to be baptized.
THE APPLICATION OF THE PARABLE
Tax collectors and prostitutes had refused to obey the will of God. Yet when they heard the message of repentance, they turned to God in obedience.
The tax collectors and prostitutes were like the son who said, “I will not,” but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. They were like Zacchaeus, who said to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).
The religious leaders on the other hand who were “so called” experts in the law of God put on an outward show of compliance. They talked a good talk but did not practice what they preached. They boasted in doing the will of God but didn’t do it. They were like the son who said to his father, “I will sir,” but did not go.
Though this parable is relatively short and though its message is simple, the lesson it teaches is by no means trivial. It comprises the teaching of the Old and New Testaments: Obey the Word of God, do what God says.
Good intentions and promises to follow Christ will not do. Hell is full of people, religious and otherwise who had good intentions and made promises to repent of their sin and follow Christ in obedience to His word but never got around to it.
The truth is the more you reject the outward call of the gospel to come to Christ and continue to live life on your terms the harder your heart will become until God will give you over completely to the lusts of your heart.
Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart by the deceitfulness of sin and refuse to come. He may never speak to you again.