In todays look at the scriptures I’d like to look at what I like to call The Other Parable of Two Sons. When most people think of a parable with two sons they immediately think of the familiar parable of the prodigal son. That is indeed a great parable and perhaps we’ll dive in another day. Today I want to look in stead at the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21.
Context matters here as usual. Jesus is sparring with the chief priests and elders in the temple. It is holy week. He has entered Jerusalem and cleared the temple. Now he is teaching in the temple. They question His authority. He then switches gears and gives this story.
He says there is a man with two sons. He approaches the first son and says, “Go and work in the vineyard.” This son says no. But later he regrets it and goes and does the work. He approaches his other son and says the same, “Go and work in the vineyard.” This son says yes he will do it. But he doesn’t go and work. Jesus asks, “Which son do you think does the will of the father?” They answer with the obvious – the first son did the will of the father.” Jesus then says “The tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom of God before you. For they believed and you didn’t.”
Now this is not a complex parable. Jesus is saying that the Jewish leaders who say they are about the Father will not get in because they don’t believe in Him. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk so to speak. But the tax collectors and prostitutes (the “sinners” of the day) do believe. They’ve seen the truth. And because of it, they have repented. They turned and changed because of it. They actually get it.
This was yet another shot across the bow of the religious leaders. Not only was Jesus not doing it their way. Not only was He allowing these “sinners” into the kingdom. But on top of that He was saying they were not in. They would not humble themselves and believe. They were full of self righteousness instead of God righteousness. Keep in mind by the way that they could have repented. It wasn’t their position that kept them out. It was their heart. No one’s position keeps one out of the Kingdom.
I think this story has some serious implications for us today, some that are pretty clear and maybe some that are not as clear.
The first is this: Calling ourself a Christian and doing all of the “right” things is not very helpful if we don’t actually follow Jesus. The bible is pretty clear. No one is righteous on their own power. No one earns salvation on their own. Pride and self righteousness are not things that we want. It’s a constant trap. Perhaps especially for those brought up in the church. Entering the Kingdom requires acknowledgement of this and repentance.
There are also a lot of people (as there always have been) who like to claim Christianity without actually believing in it. They claim the parts they like and call themselves Christian. But if you don’t believe in the basic dogma of the Church (think apostles creed and nicene creed) then really you aren’t a Christian. If you aren’t submitted to Jesus, you aren’t in the Kingdom.**
There is a second part here that is important. This is sort of my opinion but it seems to me that in every culture the “elite” of that culture think that they are better than the “peasants” of that culture. In other words they think that their position makes them more important, more righteous than the others. They should be in charge. They know how everything should work and the peasants should do it their way. Jesus’ answer to that is essentially a resounding no. One of the scandals of the gospel is that position doesn’t matter. In fact you don’t have to change position. Now you need to repent and not sin. But every person is created in the image of God and can become important in the Kingdom. Jesus is constantly flipping the tables on the “elite”. Bottom line is if you are looking down on someone, you might want to check yourself. If you are shaming someone or “cancelling” someone you may need to step back.
The third thing that comes to my mind is more simple but a huge indictment on our current culture. We like to talk a lot. We love to speak our mind, particularly online. Lots of virtue signaling. It’s an epidemic. We are like the second son. We say a bunch of stuff but we don’t do much, if anything, about it. We have somehow come to believe in our culture that someone who says the right things is better than someone who does the right things. If someone says something the wrong way, even if they do the right things day in and day out, they are wrong. But that is not reality. The real question is what did you do?
That’s not to say that words don’t matter or that we should just say what we want. Words do matter. They can wound and heal. No doubt. But at the end of the day our actions matter more. They have far more impact than what we say. Talking about it and hoping that someone else does it for us is not very effective. We need to strive to DO the will of the Father, not just talk about it.
**I’m not judging the enteral salvation of anyone here. Only God decides that. But I am suggesting that if you don’t accept the dogma of Christianity have some integrity and don’t claim it.