As we read Matthew 21: 23-42 we find Jesus in Jerusalem in the days following his tumultuous welcome into the City by the palm waving crowds. But while greeted with enthusiasm by many, he was viewed with suspicion by the Chief Priests and Elders of the People.
No sooner had he arrived, than he tore through the Temple, over-turning the tables of the money changers and those selling sacrificial doves.
He condemned them for turning the Temple, a house of prayer, into a ‘den of robbers’ and drove them out of the place. (21:12-13).
No wonder the religious leaders were annoyed. The Temple was their domain. So, they demanded to know what gave him the authority to do, and say, the things he did.
But, before answering, he asked whether they believed John the Baptist’s ministry came from heaven and was divine or was by human hand and of the world.
This gave them a problem. If they said that his ministry was from God then they had no alternative to admitting that Jesus was the Messiah, for John had borne definite and unmistakable witness to that fact.
On the other hand, if they denied that John’s ministry came from God, then they would have to bear the anger of the people who were convinced that he was the messenger of God.
It was a question they wouldn’t answer. So, Jesus went on to tell them the Parable of the two Sons. It’s a parable in which we can see God as the father, while the sons are those who hear God’s word, and the vineyard represents the World. (21: 28-32)
“There was a man who had two sons” and said to each of them in turn, “Son, go and work today in my vineyard”. One answered, “I will not”, but later changed his mind and went, while the other said, “I will, sir” but didn’t go.
And Jesus’ question? “Which of the two did what his father wanted”. This was something they had no difficulty in answering.
It was the son who, although initially refusing, had a change of heart and later agreed to do his father’s work.
What they couldn’t see, however, was that they, the religious leaders, actually represented the other son who said, “I will go, sir, but did not go”.
They are the people who said they would obey God, but did not. They are the people who said they would honour God, but did not. They were the sort of people who professed God’s love, but didn’t practise it.
In any setting, and churches are no exception, there can be some who appear willing to take on anything asked. They speak with respect for others, say the right things, give the impression that they are ready to help, but when needed, they don’t turn up.
For the Chief Priests and Elders, the sting in the tail was when Jesus told them “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”. (21:31)
All those they regarded as contemptable outcasts, the rejects of society, the sinners, would be welcomed into the kingdom of God ahead of the religious elite. And why? Because they took John’s words to heart. They may have had no time for God before, but later changed.
The ones who said they would go their own way but then took God’s way are represented by the son who at first said, “No”, but later changed his mind.
What we profess to believe has no value if it is not translated into active obedience. This parable is a challenge to God’s people of every age.
Are we all talk but little or no action? We might know people who say what we want to hear, but don’t actually to anything to help.
Jesus spoke of love and comfort. Then followed that up with action. He showed that love. He gave that comfort.
And us? Do we talk and think about helping or praying for others but then forget and do nothing? If so, others are deprived of the help we could bring and those prayers we could offer.
So, let us be the one in the parable who not only says, “I will go”, let us also go out in service for God and to others, in our work and in our prayers. Let us bring God’s words to life: today.
Let us pray.
Father in Heaven, as we see that the authority of those who challenged Jesus in the Temple was tarnished, so we pray for all today who are in positions of authority in whatever way and level that may be.
Guide them to use the power they hold to improve the lives of all. Protect each and every one who suffers from those who abuse their authority to serve their own interests.
Caring God, as our daily living continues to be affected by ongoing and increasing restrictions many are now unable to visit those they love. When they feel alone and vulnerable, may they be aware of Your presence and know that You are with them.
Lord Jesus, you’ve called us to love one another, and to work together with one heart and mind. Give us courage to follow you faithfully and with actions that bear witness to the words we speak.
Amen, and may all we say and do this day and every day bring honour and glory to God.