Two Sons

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not, ‘
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”
(Matthew 21:28-32)

Scripture Study

21:28–32 Despite the temple authorities’ evasive answer, Jesus exposes their rejection of John the Baptist with a parable about a man with two sons. The father asks his sons to work in the vineyard, an Old Testament image for Israel that Jesus has already utilized (20:1–16; Isa 5:1–7). The first son refuses his father. In a culture where sons are to honor and obey their fathers (Sir 3:1–16), the son’s initial I will not is a shameful act of defiance. But he later changed his mind and went out into the field. Although the second son agreed to work the field and even honorably addressed his father as “lord” (translated “sir” in the NAB), in the end he disobeyed and did not do the father’s will—reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching in 7:21 about those who call him “Lord” but do not do the Father’s will and do not enter the kingdom.

Obviously, the first son is the one who did his father’s will. Even the chief priests and elders recognize that. But what Jesus says next would have utterly dumbfounded them. Jesus tells them that the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you. Tax collectors and prostitutes were considered to be at the bottom of the socioreligious scale and outside God’s covenant—the kind of people the chief priests and elders looked down on the most. Yet, like the first son, these notorious sinners, who rebelled initially, repented when they heard the exhortation of John the Baptist. That Jesus would say these sinful outsiders will enter God’s kingdom before the chief priests and elders would have been completely astounding—and offensive.

At the same time, Jesus links the chief priests and elders with the second son. They had the law, and by taking office they affirmed that they would do God’s will. But when God sent his prophet John the Baptist calling all to repent, they did not believe him. They will find themselves watching the sinners enter God’s kingdom before them. It is implied that if they fail to repent, they will be left out of the kingdom (8:11–12). 

Scripture Reflection

Friends, today’s Gospel gives us the parable of the two sons, which Jesus uses as a comment on the Pharisees rejection of John the Baptist: “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did”.

Various people come to the Baptist and ask what they must do in order to be more pleasing to God. And he gives them very concrete instruction. To tax collectors, he says, “Don’t take more than you should”. To soldiers, he says, “Don’t extort and bully people and don’t expect more in pay than you deserve”. To those who have much, he says, “Share what you have with those who have less”. In other words, he urges the basic works of justice.

Like his religious and philosophical colleagues, the Baptist assumes here that this moral reform in the direction of justice can be undertaken through our own efforts.

But when people suggest that he, the Baptist, might be the Messiah, he emphatically clarifies the matter. The last and greatest of the prophets says, “There is one coming who is mightier than I. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals”.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

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