“What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go work in the vineyard today.’ “He answered, ‘I don’t want to,’ but later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered, but he didn’t go. Which of the two did his father’s will? ” (Matthew 21:28-31a CSB)
This is not one of the more familiar parables. But is one that is very applicable both to Jesus’ original audience as well as to a more modern one. In the parable, the father sends two sons out to work. The first initially resists but then goes. The second gives lip service to his father but does not follow through. So, Jesus asks, which one did what their father wanted him to do? Most people would likely respond in the same way the chief priests and elders did. The first son is the one who did his father’s will.
It would be very easy to read this parable and miss the point, so Jesus makes it clear. The priests and elders, who are debating with Jesus in the later part of this chapter, are like the second son. The one who gives lip service, but never really follows through. These ‘leaders of the people’ are making a show of serving God, but they really aren’t. Instead, they have rejected Jesus, the one who came from God. The ones who actually are being obedient are the ‘sinners’. They initially rebelled, but have turned to God and are responding to Jesus in faith.
How many of us today are guilty of only giving lip service to Christ, bearing his name, and going through the motions? But not actually living in obedience to him? That is not enough. He wants, and deserves, our full obedience.