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Matthew 21:28–32, The Parable of the Two Sons

Updated: May 25, 2023

Let's start by laying out the parable in its entirety, as per the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible: _"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. Again, he answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. _"Which of the two did what his father wanted?" _"The first," they answered.

Jesus told 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 parable serves as an allegory and a form of social commentary made by Jesus. It communicates the importance of actions over words, true repentance, and the inclusivity of the Kingdom of God.

Original Notes of Explanation:

  1. Actions over Words: The primary moral of this parable is that actions matter more than words. The first son initially defies his father but then changes his mind and follows the instruction, while the second son merely pays lip service to obedience but doesn't act on his promise. This underlines the importance of sincerity and actual behavior over verbal declarations, reminding us that actions often speak louder than words.

  2. Repentance and Change: The first son's change of heart symbolizes repentance and actual change. Despite his initial rebellion, he alters his behavior and does the father's will. This represents that past mistakes can be amended through sincere repentance and transformative action.

  3. Kingdom of God's Inclusivity: The parable ends with Jesus telling the religious leaders that tax collectors and prostitutes - two groups despised and marginalized in that society - are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of them. This alludes to the inclusivity of the Kingdom of God, suggesting that it's not one's social standing or proclaimed religiosity that matters but one's sincerity, humility, and willingness to change, instead genuinely claiming religious authority but failing to meet holiness. It serves as a direct critique of those claiming religious authority but failing to meet its demands.

  4. Critique of the Religious Elite: By likening the second son to the religious leaders, Jesus is critiquing their hypocrisy. Despite their outward holiness and obedience, they failed to follow God's will, much like the second son, power, genuinely claiming he promised to work but didn't. They also failed to recognize and accept the teachings of John the Baptist, which Jesus points out in the closing part of this passage.

  5. The Power of Belief and Faith: The parable also highlights the power of belief and faith. The tax collectors and the prostitutes believed in John's message and were thus seen as more fit for the Kingdom of God, despite their social standing. This teaches us that faith is a powerful transformative tool that surpasses societal judgments and expectations.

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