Which of the two did the will of his father?
The Two Sons
[Matthew 21: 28-32]

A Christian evangelist of some years back made a point of preaching the Gospel outside of churches to those who were indifferent or hostile to the faith. By the end of his career, he had discovered what had turned so many off: ‘the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians.’ St. Paul himself chastised the Romans

For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ (Romans 2:24)

In our parable, we learn the nature of that ‘unsatisfactory’ fault. It is expressed in the attitude of the second son, the one who, when asked by his father to work in his vineyard, said ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Jesus contrasted him with the first son, who refused to work in the vineyard, but in turn repented and went. Then Jesus asked point blank: ‘Which of the two did the will of his father?’ By giving the obvious answer that it was the first son, the religious elders condemned themselves. The fault was clear: professing the word, but not practicing it!
The father’s vineyard is a potent symbol for Israel.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting (Isaiah 5:7)

Yet while the Scribes and Pharisees boasted that they would faithfully tend that garden, they refused the proclamation of the prophets sent by God to bring forth the fruits of God’s justice and mercy. Instead, they refused time and again to heed their cry.

…I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town (Matthew 23:34)

The other striking note of our parable is that the ones who did heed the call where those least expected to do so, at least in the eyes of the so called ‘faithful.’ These were the tax collectors and the harlots, those symbolized by the first son, who repented after disobeying the father’s command. The most striking note of all is Jesus’ pronouncement that they will enter the kingdom of God before those who claimed to be pious, holy and righteous only with their lips.
It is not possible to add any more to the stunning power of this parable. Yet we might want to consider the possibility of yet a third son. One who both says ‘yes’ to God in faith and obeys in faithfulness.

Every one who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24)