The Parable of the Two Sons

This story that Jesus tells I think is one of his more brilliant ones. At least it is one of my favourites. Two sons are told to go work by their father. One says he’s not going to and then later changes his mind and goes and does it. The other one says he is going to do it and then never does it. Then he asks the people listening to his story which son did what their father wanted. The answer is the first one. Then he says

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.

I’m sure I’m missing a lot of meaning in this story, so any help would be great, but there is a lot that I take out if this story. For starters I’m wondering if Jesus is saying that those who are currently saying I will not listen to God (tax collectors, prostitutes) are going to heaven because they eventually did listen. But those that are ‘listening now’ or at least think they are (Pharisees, religious people) never end up doing what God told them to do in the first place, love God and their neighbours. Or maybe the Pharisees have been hoping for a Messiah to deliver them, and when he comes and delivers them they don’t want it. They talk and talk about be delivered, but don’t really want it. Another story reminding us that those who we would think are in; aren’t and those that are in we were sure that they were no where close.

Is a story like this reminding us that our intentions mean very little and our actions are the crux of the matter?

Is this story a warning against procrastination?

Neither character in this story is really one I want to look up to. I’d rather be the guy that says he’s gonna do it and then does it.

Maybe it’s a story reminding us that decisions (“to accept Christ in your heart” maybe?) mean nothing, if they don’t do the work that God has for us. That would suck for our salvation numbers.

Are you seeing anything else in this story that I’m not?

6 Comments

  • Nathan,
    Think about the passage in Matthew 26 where Jesus is talking about the sheep and the goats. What is interesting is that those who are invited in are the ones who gave to the hungry, gave tot he thirsty, invited in the stranger, took care of the sick and visited those in prison. He concluded it with :whoever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” The distinction is drawn between what is done and not done. James also talked about how our faith without works is dead. There seems to be a balance that the scriptures draw up. On the one hand it is by grace that we are saved through faith, not by works lest any man should boast. It is a gift from God, yet it would appear that once we have made that step of faith works should follow or else our faith is dead. I wonder if there isn’t something about balance, opposites meeting in the middle. Of course we need to recgonize that the element of spiritual maturity plays a role. I don’t expect the same behaviors and attitudes from a new born Christian that I would expect from someone who has been walking with the Lord for years. However, the best example for the new believer is to be around the mature believer who should be an example.
    Regarding the pharisees, there is something to be said about expectations. How Jesus came as the Messiah didn’t go according to what they thought, same as the scribes and Sadducees. Somehow, who Jesus is and how he comes and meets us and others doesn’t always fit how I planned or expected it. That’s the beauty of God, He doens’t fit into a box, because he ceated the box.

  • I think you have to be carefull about separating intention from action. Then you get into the argument that C.S Lewis makes in his book “the last battle” where he implies (theologically, not literally of course)that people doing the right things for reasons other than honouring God will be “saved” simply by the nature of their actions alone being “good” or “right”. But I, perhaps sadly, have to think that this is not the case. The intention AND the action are mutually important. For us, perhaps INTENTION is even MORESO important, because God does not call us to be SUCCESSFUL, but FAITHFUL, and that implies intention, and not the outcome of action…

  • Hey Natalie, thanks for posting :)

    I thought about that a little before I wrote this post and that’s part of the struggle I’m having. I do think God calls us to be successful also (maybe not in some people’s version of the word). I’ve never liked that saying, because it takes away responsibility and I just don’t know where it comes from, probably from the time that God called people to do something (hosea maybe?) only for the marriage to fail over and over again. But I still think Hosea was successful.

    However, you are right in that intention and action go hand in hand, belief and deeds arguement all over again that James tries so hard to pound into our heads that one without the other doesn’t make sense.

  • I listened to Arcade Fire’s “antichrist television” yesterday (or something to that effect?) and I think it’s so perfect for this topic of success and intention and responsibility…check it out when you get a chance, or perhaps you already have, as boys always seem to have heard every song ever made…

  • I don’t think it’s about intentions at all.

    I think it’s more about giving lip service to the right things as opposed to actually doing the right things.

    We can talk about loving all we want, but until actually loving becomes our intention and we do soemthing about it, we have achieved nothing.

    To me, it’s the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. The first son knew the right things to say and look good, but the second son, who intially seems unconcerned with looking like the proper son, actually does care to honour his father and do what is right and goes ahead and does it.

    The C.S. Lewis example works for me though because I think the point isn’t that the soldier was doing good things with bad intentions, but that his intentions were to do what was right and he was following through to the best that he knew and understood how to.

    Jesus seems pretty clear to me that God hates lip servicer and empty words and that God judges the heart, but what is in the heart is what is played out in the actions.

    A child might tell a parent, “I hate you” but really, their actions might show that no matter wha that parent has done, the child actually desparately does love their parent.

    Conversely, one might profess one’s love to one’s spouse with one’s lips, but only spitefulness and selfishness might come out of one’s heart. (trying to remain gender neutral there…)

  • John, I liked a lot what you said there at the beginning. I never really looked at it that way.

    Where the one son, maybe he was just saying he would go do it because he knew (thought) that’s what his father wanted to hear. The other, really didn’t want to do it at all maybe, or just wasn’t really concerned if his father knew he did it or not, yet he ends up doing it. It is certainly an interesting way to look at both sons.

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