Today we have heard the parable of two sons. It is another parable unique to Matthew’s Gospel. There the father calls his first son to go work in the vineyard. Firstly, he refuses but later relents and goes to work. The second son placates the father with a quick agreement to go and work but he never actually goes. Then Jesus was asking the audience, the people, “Which of the two did the will of his father?" This technique which Jesus used is quite similar to the technique used by the Prophet Nathan when he confronts King David about his adultery with Bathsheba as we find in the second book of Samuel chapter 12. There the prophet tells a story and then asks the listeners to answer a question. The cunning thing of asking the question of the audience is that by giving a reply, as listeners, they pass a judgement on themselves.
Here, in this parable, when Jesus asked the people, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” they answered, “The First.” Yes, it is true for the first glance. The first son did the father’s will. But when we read this parable again, we could get that both sons brought dishonor to the father. The first by his words and the second by his deeds. At the same time, I do agree with your feelings that that first son did repent and did the will of father. But it is not what our Lord taught us. There the evangelist tries to bring to our minds the teachings concerning our words. In Matthew chapter 5 verse 37 we read, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” The danger behind the attitude of the first son is that it motivates us to live a life of dishonoring God and all that he asked us to do, and repent at the end. However, if they keep their heart close to God and his things, they will find their salvation in the mercy of God. Due to this reason our Lord Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
Coming back to the parable, the people as well as Jesus stand against the second son who said yes but did not fulfill the wish of his father. Here, the Evangelist tries to draw a link between the second son and the earlier teaching of Jesus as we read in chapter 7 verse 21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Here the second son stands for all who give only lip service and do nothing.
We need to understand the historical situation which provoked Jesus to speak loudly against the authorities. This happened after the triumphal entry and the cleansing of Jerusalem temple. From that moment on Jesus challenged the pseudo peace achieved through adjustments made between Jewish authorities and Roman leaders. And these so-called Jewish authorities not only looted and took advantage of common people but also presented the tax collectors as the betrayers. That is why he taught as we read in the gospel of Matthew chapter 23 verse 3 “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”
As narrated in the Gospel, in the second day the various groups that oppose Jesus inaugurate a series of challenges, all of which aim at undermining his authority in order to dislodge him from the temple. Here through the parable of the two sons, Jesus had exposed their own hypocrisy by comparing them to the second son and even placed those so-called public sinners above them by saying they will enter the kingdom of God before you. As I said earlier both the sons dishonored their father. But when we compare the weightage, the first son weighs lighter than the second one.
So dear brothers and sisters, both sons are there inside each one of us. The one who denies first but later relents and does the things, and the one who says yes but does not fulfill the things. Through this parable Jesus warned us that both are wrong but one finds the mercy of God if and only if he or she keeps a tender heart.