In the last post we just considered the first part of this passage. The father in the parable could have made a judgment right after the second son said he would go to the field. After all, the first son was defiant and the second son was respectful. It would seem clear – the first son could be expected to defy his father and the second son could be expected to follow through and honor his father. But as the parable continues, just the opposite actually happened. The expectations formed after the initial encounters turned out to be flawed. This is an important lesson to learn in shepherding teenagers. As parents, it is your natural tendency treat your teenagers the way the hypocritical religious leaders in Matthew 21 treated those under their care.
Jesus is talking to the religious establishment of his day in this chapter. These leaders should have recognized the Jesus they saw living before them. However, they expected a different Jesus. They expected a messiah who would meet their standards and honor them in their hypocrisy. They assumed they would be respected as leaders, that Jesus would acknowledge their wisdom and applaud their lifestyle. Instead he did just the opposite. The response of wisdom and humility for the chief priests and elders would have been to question their expectations and see if perhaps their understanding of righteous behavior was flawed. But no, they continued in the same stubborn direction. So, Jesus tells them two parables to illustrate their weakness. Sadly and predictably, the establishment crowd continued in their ways, and after hearing the second parable they began to look for ways to arrest him. Here is the whole parable:
“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, “I tell you the truth, 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. Matthew 21:28-32
So, how does this connect to parenting teenagers? The point of stopping where I did in the last post was to help gain some understanding of the impact of the narrative on those who heard it. I can imagine that Jesus might well have paused for effect right after the second son said he would go. The phrase “I will, sir,” could have been left hanging just for a moment, before Christ dropped the other shoe. Think about the responses of those listening to Jesus. Well, at least one son did the right thing. He honored his father The first son was a disappointment. The second son, however, was a son to be proud of. He was respectful and eager to please. Perhaps these thoughts were dancing in the minds of the authority bunch. Then Jesus says, “…but he did not go.” By viewing this interchange as if we were there it becomes a powerful illustration. Now, Jesus asks, which of these two did what the father wanted? Was it the respectful son who gave the man-pleasing answer or was it the son with the attitude problem? Reluctantly they had to answer: the first son.
Then Jesus drives his point home. The leaders did not expect anything good from the tax collectors and prostitutes. These were people who did not meet the expectations of God’s law. They clearly did things that were inappropriate. So, instead of loving them and faithfully calling them to honor God, the leaders contemptuously wrote them off. But their expectations were very wrong. Their problem was they did not expect God to work.