A Parable for Religious Leaders
We’re in Matthew 21 this week. On Sunday, we started unpacking a heated exchange; Jesus on one side and the chief priests and elders on the other. And of course, this was in the temple courts with plenty of spectators.
This exchanged centred around whether or not John the Baptist’s ministry was from God or simply made up. Today, Jesus is going to use a small, yet effective parable to set the religious leaders straight.
“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.“
Two Sons, Two Sins
This parable begins with “…a man…who had two sons…” (21:28). This father wants his sons to work in the vineyard.
This is a typical request in this day and age, for a father to ask his two sons to put in a day’s work. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the request.
But the responses are not typical:
Initially, the first son says “I will not…” (21:29) and the second son says “I will, sir…” (21:30). For a moment, let’s just focus on their initial answers and the heart condition to which their responses stemmed from.
As I’ve studied this parable over the week, it became clear that both of these sons have their struggles with sin. Both of these sons have fallen short, at least initially.
Within the first son it’s easy to see his sin.
The first son directly and openly rebels against his father, rejecting his request. Right to his father’s face, the son says “no.”
Even though we know he is about to change his mind, his initial heart condition is defiant. There is a lack of respect and honour for his father.
Moving on to the second son.
He seems so compliant doesn’t he? He even adds “sir” in his answer; “yes sir” and “I will sir.” But he doesn’t go anywhere.
Scripture tells us “…he did not go” (21:30). Yet, there is no indication that he forgot to go the vineyard or that he accidently got busy with another area of work. There is a sense that the son never intended to go into the vineyard.
And so, we have two sons.
The first has been defiant and the second has been deceptive. Again, both have fallen short. Both neglected their Father’s instruction to work in the vineyard.
However, let’s remember that the first son “…changed his mind and went.” (21:29)
How will the religious leaders respond?
On Thursday, we’ll see that Jesus moves from parable to insult, coming back to the heart of the debate regarding John the Baptist.
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