Jesus was talking to the religious establishment of his day. These leaders should have recognized the Jesus they saw 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.
Jesus did just the opposite. He told 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 Jesus. Here is the first 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,…”
Let’s stop the story for a moment. What is your impression at this point? Is this story about a rebellious, ungrateful son, maybe even a rebellious teenager? Let’s see.
“ …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
Jesus drives his point home. The leaders did not expect anything good from the tax collectors and prostitutes. They did not meet the expectations of their view 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 wrote them off. But their expectations were very wrong. Their problem was they did not expect God to work.
So, how does this connect to parenting teenagers? Think about the responses of those listening to Jesus as he told the parable. At first glance the first son was a rebellious 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 first son with the attitude problem? Reluctantly they had to answer: the first son.
What appeared to be rebellion was really a problem of relationship. Something to think about.