This parable is a more simple parable given by Jesus yet, it is not without significant meaning. The parable of the two sons appears only in Matthew. We’re going to look at this parable and provide some application to it. Let’s begin.
This parable begins in Matthew 21:28-32,
““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. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.””
The context of this parable is imperative to be able to understand who Jesus is talking to and why he is telling this parable. Throughout this chapter, Jesus has entered Jerusalem as a king in the eyes of the people, he has cursed a fig tree, and caused a scene in the temple courts that makes most of us uncomfortable. Just before this parable is mentioned, starting in verse 23, the chief priests and elders come to Jesus and ask him a question about his authority. Jesus then asks them a question in return that they can’t answer and then Jesus tells this parable. So the audience is most likely those who just challenged him and these are the last days of Jesus’ ministry as he knows his time is near.
So Jesus gives us a scenario that perhaps all parents can relate to at one time or another. Jesus tells of a father who had two sons. He asked the first one to work and he told his father that he would not work but later he did anyway. Then he went to ask the other son, and he said yes at first, but never actually went. Jesus then asks a simple question of which son actually did what the father had asked. The answer is the first one, which they answered correctly. Although the first son said no at first, he ended up going which is what the father wanted all along. Then Jesus goes into a teaching about tax collectors and prostitutes. This is where the application comes in. Let’s look at this closer.
Jesus tells the priests and leaders of the people that the tax collectors and prostitutes, the lowest of society, are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them. What a bold thing to say to leaders of people who hold a high position in society! Jesus refers to John the baptist when he came before Jesus showed up on the scene. John showed them the way but they did not believe him, but the lowest of society did and they accepted the truth. Even after the leaders saw what was happening by the lowest accepting the truth, they still did not believe John and his message. And here lies the application. Even though the tax collectors and prostitutes were not following the way of God at first (the first son), they accepted the message of truth and came to God. The leaders, however, had the appearance of following God but never actually truly followed him (the second son).
Now we can leave this parable in the context of the life of Jesus or we can apply it to our lives. We can say that we can either be the tax collectors and prostitutes or we can be the leaders, and here is what I mean. No matter where we are in life, we can come to Jesus and when we do we will be following God at the heart. We can also go to church every Sunday, read the Bible, and be the leaders who truly never follow Christ. Being a Christian is a matter of the heart, not outside appearances or actions we do to look righteous. The leaders did everything required of them, which looks righteous, but they did it all for selfish intent and self-glory. The tax collectors and prostitutes were truly sorry for their way of life and made a true change, like the first son did.
Our life can either be fruitful or fruitless and God looks at the fruits of our lives. When we have the Spirit within us, we have fruits that show up in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control”. If we are showing these attributes, then we are truly loving Jesus and loving others. We are really exhibiting the behavior of the first son by doing what our Father asks.