“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 be 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. (verses 28-31)
Jesus has bluntly pointed out the hypocrisy of Israel’s religious leaders through the earlier parts of this chapter. They had an appearance of godly devotion, but devotion wasn’t truly in their hearts. That’s the point, once again, in this present parable. It speaks to those leaders in Jesus’ own day. But it speaks to us, also.
Two brothers are both given the same command by their father: “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” One responds immediately by saying “no,” the other by saying “yes.” As a father, I know that the immediate, eager, affirmative response would warm my heart. But the follow-through would be even more important. In this case, the son who says “no” changes his mind and goes to work in the vineyard; the other does the opposite.
So, Jesus asks, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
The answer is obvious. Those listening (presumably including the chief priests and elders of the people who had immediately prior baited Jesus, asking about the source of his authority) get it. They answer correctly. They name the first son as the obedient one.
So Jesus brings it home. Without pulling any punches he tells these religious leaders, who are so proud of their outward show of religiosity, that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom ahead of them. Ouch!
Why is that the case? It’s because these “sinners,” knowing full well that they are not righteous, have listened attentively to the preaching of John the Baptist, and have believed and repented. But the religious elite never did. Outwardly they were saying “yes, yes,” but inwardly they refused to enter “the way of righteousness” that John was clearly showing them.
And what about us? We may have already embraced Jesus, acknowledging his authority, owning him as Lord, none of which was done by these chief priests and elders. But now, in our day-to-day journey of following him, how responsive are we to his commands? Do we say “yes,” but hold back, delaying from doing what he has called us to do, or lingering in our own endeavours rather than jumping into his? As Jesus asks elsewhere, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) Or as James puts it, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
Take the lesson from these brothers. What’s crucial is not the words, but rather the action. Step into obedience.
Lord Jesus, I hear your word of instruction. I choose to embrace it. I want to be one who truly enters into what you are commanding, when you command it. Nudge me by your Spirit. Strengthen me in obedience. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Have you put off doing anything the Lord has asked you to do? Talk with him about it. Make a choice to step into obedience.