28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”
They said to Him, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.
Is simply “saying” that you are loyal to God enough? Is professing some kind of attachment to God and His kingdom sufficient for holy living? The obvious answer to those who have some understanding of the Bible’s teaching is NO. We need more than talk. We need actions. Allegiance to God is more than about what you say. It’s about what you do. Jesus talks of that many times and he teaches that truth in this parable.
You’ve probably heard about the wife who complained to her husband he wasn’t showing her very much love and affection. He defensively responded that he remembered telling her that he loved her. She responded that in twenty five years of marriage he had only told her one time that he loved her—and that was at the wedding ceremony itself. He responded, “Honey, I told you then I loved you and if it ever changes, I’ll let you know.” He thought words were enough. She needed actions.
Neither of these two sons in Jesus’ parable gave an appropriate response. The first son gave a defiant response: “I will not go!” That’s hardly any way to talk to anyone with whom you have a relationship let alone one’s own father. The key to this son, though, is that later, he repented of his sharp tone and disloyal spirit and he went and did what the father asked.
The second son gave a deceptive response. He said what he thought his father wanted to hear. He gave the words of obedience, but he did not go and do what his father asked.
The essential truth of this parable is that folks who associate with Jesus and profess their devotion to him can be traitors (doing is more important than saying). We don’t hear much of that word any more. It’s also relegated to classic literature and action movies. “Traitors” aka: Benedict Arnolds, spies, haters, infiltrators, dirty scumbags, betrayers, double-crossers, renegades, mutineers, insurgents, deviants, defectors, two-timers, turncoats, and dissidents. Benedict Arnold, Julius and Ethel Rosenburg, Alger Hiss, Aldrich Ames…all synonymous with traitors. People who said one thing, but did another.
The focus of Jesus is on the second son. It was an obvious connection to the religious leaders who were seeking to entrap him. They were the ones who had pledged loyalty and affection to God, but they didn’t show it. They ignored John’s preaching and stubbornly held to only an appearance of righteousness. Open sinners, on the other hand, repented. While they at first lived lives in hostility to God and His claim on their lives, they repented and changed.
Maybe you’re like that child. Defiant, selfish, preoccupied and dishonoring of God. Maybe, you, like this son in Jesus’ story, don’t care at all about what the Father wants. But maybe you are realizing there is more to life than your schedule. Do you know God created you for His purpose, not your own? Do you realize there is forgiveness in Jesus? The good news of the Bible is that you can change. Today! With the power of Jesus, you can start serving God and honoring Him!
Maybe you feel more like the second son. You’ve always given the right answers, but you know that deep in your heart you resent it. You ignore God every chance you get. You do whatever it takes to look good on the outside to please some people in your life, but you don’t love God and you don’t do what He says to do. Could it be that you’re not really His? In an early chapter of Matthew Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord’, ‘Lord’, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father in heaven.” Doing God’s will is the best way we can know we love Him. It’s not a perfect test, because some people do the right things but for a wrong reason. Even they can be traitors to God. But it at least starts there. Are you sure you truly love God?