The Parable of the Two Sons
Matthew / Chapter 21 / V28-32
“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, "I tell you the truth, 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.” ~Mt 21:28-32
To understand the hidden meaning behind the parable, we need to understand who the target audience was. When this parable was preached in the temple, it was intended as an admonishment to answer the questions posed by the chief priests and the elders of the Jews. The parable consists of three characters: the father, the elder son, and the younger son. The father represents God, the Heavenly Father; the elder son, the tax collectors and the prostitutes; the younger son, the chief priests and the elders.
The focus of the parable was to identify which of the two sons obeyed the father. Both of them were given the same instructions by their father, to go and work in the vineyard. Initially, the elder son disobeyed the father’s instructions by saying that he would not go but felt guilty afterwards and eventually changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The younger son did just the exact opposite. He agreed immediately to his father’s instructions saying, “I will, sir,” however, he ended up not going to work in the vineyard. Of the two sons, who obeyed the father’s instructions? Without a doubt, we would agree that it was the one who went to work in the vineyard – the elder son. The younger son was merely paying lip service and had no intention of working in the vineyard. In deciding who truly obeyed the father’s instructions, we determine it by identifying the action taken and not the spoken words. By not going to work in the vineyard, however pleasing the words are, they are but mere empty talk, an attempt of deceit to satisfy the father temporarily.
The parable above clearly shows how the Heavenly Father relates Himself to the chief priests, elders, tax collectors and the prostitutes. The chief priests and elders were experts of God’s Law and their dutiful attitude towards the keeping of the Law was above reproach. Whereas the tax collectors and prostitutes openly disobeyed God’s Law. Everyone knows that the chief priests and elders were the role models in the keeping of the Law of God. On the other hand, the tax collectors and prostitutes were the exact opposite. No one would ever consider the tax collectors and prostitutes to be the true followers of God’s Law and label the chief priests and elders as law breakers. However, the Lord revealed through His parable a shocking truth no one would believe.
John the Baptist came preaching the way of repentance, the tax collectors and prostitutes heard it and believed, repented of their sins and sought the forgiveness of the Heavenly Father. The chief priests and elders also heard the preaching of John but they refused to repent and acknowledge their sins before God. The purpose of the Law is to convict us of our sin and not to justify a man by keeping it, for no one in the world is capable of keeping the whole Law of God. Therefore, under the Law, mankind is guilty before God. Whether they are tax collectors, prostitutes, the chief priests or the elders, all of them are guilty and need to repent of their sins, for there is no difference. When God gave the Law, it was for the purpose that men would repent. And those that repented of their sins are the ones that obeyed the commandments of the Law, the true followers of the Law of God.
The elder son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes. Although the elder son started off by disobeying his father saying, “I will not,” he was finally found working in the vineyard. Hence, he had truly obeyed the father’s instructions. The tax collectors and prostitutes likewise, though they started off living a life of sin by disobeying the Law of God, at the end of it, they listened to the words of John and repented before God, fulfilling the true purpose of the Law. They are the ones that have truly listened and obeyed the Law of God.
The younger son represents the chief priests and Jewish elders. Although in the beginning he said, “I will go, Sir,” yet he ended up not working in the vineyard and became the one who truly disobeyed the instructions of the father. The chief priests and the Jewish elders likewise, appeared to be faithful keepers of the Law of God. But, when John came preaching the way of repentance, they rejected his words and refused to repent of their sins. They were the ones who truly defied God’s commandment and disobeyed the Law of God. For if they were the true keepers of the Law, with their deep understanding of the Law, they should have repented and entered the kingdom of heaven way before the tax collectors and prostitutes. But ironically, those who entered the heavenly kingdom first were the tax collectors and prostitutes, whereas the chief priests and Jewish elders found themselves left behind and rejected by God!