The parable of the Two Sons

Do you remember that hilarious sketch on Comic Relief from a few years ago where comedian James Corden was telling the England football team where they were going wrong and how they should play the game. Players like David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch were being lectured by somebody who clearly had never kicked a football in his life. But the world is full of armchair footballers or cricketers or athletes who can talk about the sports even though they have never played them. There are music fans who rave about their favourite artists or bands or orchestras even though they the fans couldn’t play an instrument or even sing a note. Never mind the world of critics in art or literature who can wax lyrical about paintings or sculptures or books or poems but have never produced anything creative themselves. There are so many things in life which it is very easy to talk about but very hard to do.

You can talk the talk. But do you walk the walk?

Which of the two sons did what their Father wanted? Not the one who said he would go and work in the vineyard but changed his mind and did not go. It was the son who at first refused to work, but then changed his mind and actually went, who did what their father wanted.

This simple parable makes a clear point. What we say about things matters less than what we do about them. Many churches rightly put a great emphasis on what we BELIEVE. To use long words, we care a lot about ORTHODOXY – saying the right things and believing the right things. God cares a lot about what we say and what we believe. But the parable of the two sons reminds us that God cares even more about what we actually DO. God cares more about ORTHOPRAXIS – doing the right things.

You can talk the talk. But do you walk the walk?

We talk a lot about love. We know that God commands us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Jesus commands us to love each other as He has loved us – by this will all men know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. We may believe the right things and we say the right things about loving other people. But what God cares about even more is that we DO the right things and actually get out there showing his kind of love to the world.

We talk a lot about prayer. We know the privilege of prayer – that we have access to the throne of Almighty God, that we have a heavenly Father who listens to us. We know the power of prayer. That God moves mountains in response to faithful prayers. We may believe the right things and we say the right things about prayer. But what God cares even more about is that we DO the right things and actually spends time praying!

We talk a lot about Christian living. Honesty and integrity. Storing up treasures in heaven and not treasures on earth. We believe the right things and we say the right things about Christian living. But what God cares about more is that we DO the right things in all the complicated issues of living as a Christian in today’s world.

We talk a lot about sharing our faith. We know how much God loves us and we know we should share that wonderful message with the whole world. We know that our friends and neighbours are going to a lost eternity without Christ. We believe the right things and we say the right things about sharing our faith. But what God cares about even more is that we DO the right things and actually get out there showing his kind of love to the world and telling people that Jesus loves them.

In so many areas of life – You can talk the talk. But do you walk the walk? What we believe is important. What we say is important. But what we do is more important!

When Jesus told this parable of the two sons, who was he talking to? Was Jesus thinking about something specific when he was criticising people for saying something and not doing it? Indeed he was.

The parable is about “changing your mind”. Both sons changed their mind. One said yes and then changed his mind and didn’t do what he had said he would do. The other said no and then changed his mind and went. So the parable is about changing your mind. And Jesus isn’t saying that changing your mind is a bad thing. For the second son, it was a bad thing. For the first son, changing his mind was a good thing. So when is changing your mind a good thing?

Jesus followed this parable with a brief commentary which explains what he was talking about.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 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.

So here Jesus is making clear who the parable of the two sons is all about. The second son represents the Pharisees, the most respectable hard-working hard-praying Jews in Jesus’s time. They talked the talk. But they didn’t walk the walk. Because they rejected John the Baptist’s message. The first son represents the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the lowest of the low in Jewish society. Time and again in their lives they had rejected God. But when John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus, it was the tax collectors and prostitutes and all the “sinners” who accepted John’s message. They repented – they changed their minds and they changed their lives. The Pharisees were the opposite. They did not repent. The Pharisees would not change their ways.

MATTHEW 3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.11 “I baptise you with water for repentance.
That was John the Baptist’s message. Repent. Change your mind. And prove you have changed your mind by changing your life! And the tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners wend out and confessed their sins and were baptized. But when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John although they said all the right things, they weren’t ready to change their lives and truly repent. Which is why John says to them, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” It’s not enough just to talk the talk. You have to walk the walk!

The parable of the two sons was a rebuke to the Pharisees who said all the right things, but in their hearts did not truly repent of their sins. So what was God looking for from the Pharisees which they were not doing? What kind of repentance does God look for from all of us? Jesus told another parable which helps us to understand.

Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
It was a parable with a very obvious “goody” and a very obvious “baddy”
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
Goody = Pharisee….. most religious guys around \THUMBS UP
Baddy = tax collector … collaborator, professional thief \ THUMBS DOWN
11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
All this is true!!
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
Jewish men do not beat their breast as a sign of grief – only women do that!
Now every Jew thinks they know what the ending of this story will be. God will bless the goody, the Pharisee, and God will bring judgment on the baddy the Tax Collector. But Jesus has a surprise for His listeners.
14 “I tell you that this man, (the Tax Collector) rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
What a punchline! The Pharisees thought they would be saved because they did and said all the right religious things. But Jesus told them they would not. They would never be saved by the good things they did. On the other hand, the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the sinners were being saved – because they were the ones who recognized they had sinned and that they could do nothing to save themselves. They were the ones who threw themselves on God’s mercy! They knew they couldn’t talk the talk – but they knew what God required and they walked the walk.

Remember the parable of the Shepherd who went out to find his lost sheep.Luke 15:5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Of course the 99 righteous people DO need to repent. The problem is they think they are OK so they never do repent.

You may remember me telling you before the story about Frederick II who was King of Prussia back in the eighteenth-century. One day the King went to inspect the prison in Berlin. The prisoners all fell on their knees protesting their unjust imprisonment. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of exploitation. While listening to these pleas of innocence, Frederick’s eye was caught by a solitary figure in the corner, a prisoner who seemed unconcerned with all the commotion.
“Why are you here?” Frederick asked him. “Armed robbery, Your Majesty.”
“Well,” remarked the King, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too? Were you guilty?”
“Oh yes, indeed, Your Majesty. I entirely deserve my punishment.” At that Frederick summoned the jailer. “Release this guilty man at once,” he said. “Before he corrupts all these fine innocent people in here!”
Repentance means admitting our sins. To use the words of the old Anglican Prayer Book, to acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness. What about us? Are we truly repenting of our sins? Or are we ever like the Pharisee who thought he was alright because of the good things he did? Where does our hope of salvation lie? When it comes to true repentance we may talk the talk, but do we actually walk the walk?
A young boy had just given his life to Jesus and sat on a bench next to old man who looked upset. The little boy said to the man, “Sir, do you need to get saved?”
The man replied, “I’ll tell you I’ve been a Sunday School teacher and a youth leader and Deacon in this church for over 30 years!”
The little boy responded, “Sir, it doesn’t matter what you done, Jesus still loves you and He’ll still save you!”
We go to church every week. That won’t save us. We read our Bibles every day. That won’t save us. We pray every day. That won’t save us. We try to obey the ten commandments. That won’t save us. We try to love our neighbours. That won’t save us. We give generously to the church. That won’t save us. We share our faith with everybody we meet. That won’t save us. I’m a minister – a deacon – a Home Group Leader – a missionary. That won’t save us. Only one thing will save us.
“God have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The parable of the two sons. Which son are you like?
You can talk the talk. But do you walk the walk?

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