Gospel of Matthew 21: 28-32 (NIV)
The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “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.’
29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “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. 32 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.”
Jesus intended this parable for the chief priests and the elders of the people who came to him in the temple courts. He had already countered their challenge to his authority by asking them how they regarded John’s baptism; here he compared them with the son who stated his intention to comply with the father’s will but continued to follow his own interests, thereby ignoring his father.
The point of Jesus’ teaching is evident in the posing of this question, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” It is evident that the Father desires obedience from his children rather than the giving of “lip service” to the Father’s will but not following through. Is doing what our Heavenly Father wants of us the driving force in our own lives today?
We are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 10) but do we live out these words as we pray them: “Your will be done on earth …”? In praying this simple sentence we are actually appealing to the Father to ensure his will prevails on earth – and this means that his will prevails in the life of the one praying ahead of anything else in that person’s own life. “On earth” really means “in me”!
We should recognise another dimension to this parable: Jesus made no mention of how the father might have ensured that what he wanted would be done. The parable contains no suggestion of coercion, of threat or of a resort to the use of force. The father left it to each son to choose to obey. This is reflective of our Heavenly Father who has granted free will to all his children; each of us has the freedom to choose to obey him or to disobey or, indeed, to ignore him altogether.
It is the nature of the God revealed to us through Jesus Christ that he does not establish his kingdom by resorting to force or violence. We who follow Jesus must recognise this as it distinguishes the Christian faith among other world views. We must be mindful of the example of our Lord who said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18: 36).
Elsewhere Jesus presented the Father’s requirement of those who follow him: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and … love your neighbour as yourself’” (Matthew 22: 37-39). Have you committed to doing what your Father wants of you?