The Parable of the Two Sons

Were Cain and Abel twins?

A friend asked about the Parable of the Two Sons. This parable was given by Jesus, and recorded in Matthew 21:28-32. He was speaking to Jerusalem’s chief priests and elders (v23).

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,” [the chief priests and elders] answered.

Jesus said to 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.

Some assume that Jesus’ words in the last paragraph is a response to them giving the wrong answer. They gave the right answer, of course. Only one son did, in the end, what the father wanted. How are we to understand this?

The father is, of course, God. The vineyard is the world, where we are to work for God. The chief priests and elders, like the second son, said that they would do God’s will…but, as we see from how Jesus treated them throughout the Gospels, they did not. Tax collectors and prostitutes, like the first son, didn’t want to do God’s will…but, after understanding John the Baptist’s message, they changed their minds and began to do it. Jesus is criticizing the religious leaders for failing to do what God asked, and commending those who had lived a life of sin and repented (changed direction) to serve God.

James wrote about this very thing: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22). We should follow the example set by those tax collectors and prostitutes.