“Jesus said to the chief priests and elders, ‘What do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” And the son answered, “I will not”; but afterward regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, “I will, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him’ ” (Mt 21:28-32).
The second son in this story represents the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. They loudly proclaimed their commitment to God and in theory were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God. But when John the Baptist announced the coming of the kingdom, they rejected him.
The first son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, a class of citizens often referred to as “sinners”. They had been rejecting God’s call on their life. However, when John appeared, they responded enthusiastically to the announcement of the kingdom of God. They ultimately were the ones who “did the will of the father”.
How does this apply to our parenting? We are all familiar with the smooth talking kid; the polite child who sounds obedient but never seems to follow through. They are like the second son, saying “yes” to obedience but going their own way.
This parable teaches our children that the right choice is obedience like the first son. Even if they are not excited about it, they are to follow through on their commitments. We want action, not just talk. We want doers of the word, not just hearers – or talkers.
We want obedience even if that action is not accompanied by a good attitude. In our early child training years, we concentrated more on obedience than attitude. Even begrudging obedience was better than a cheerful attitude that never quite got around to finishing the job. Does this mean that attitude is not important? No, and in fact we will get to some parables that teach a godly attitude while doing our jobs. I am just saying that attitude is more of a long-term project while obedience is easily measured in each situation.
I will also add, on a personal note, the value of modeling the lessons of the parables that we are trying to teach. My wife, Rhonda, is a stellar “doer of the word”. There is not a person I know who takes this charge more to heart. Her compassionate “doing” rather than “talking about it” was a great example for our children. And I say as humbly as I can, they caught the message.
Teach and model for your children the obedience of the first son. Even if the attitude still needs some work, reward the obedience.