4th October 2023

A parable from Matthew’s gospel (21:28–32, NLT).

Jesus spoke to the priests and elders, saying,

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.”

Jesus continued,

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied,

“The first.”

The narrator invites us to see the older son – the one who eventually does the work – as the hero and the younger son as the villain. But neither son comes out of this story looking particularly righteous. One refuses to obey his father, the other lies to him.

Then Jesus explained the parable:

“I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.”

Tax collectors, prostitutes, priests and elders all heard John the Baptist call them to repentance, but who chose to listen? Whose actions led them towards the Kingdom of God and whose actions led them away? It is human nature to polarize people – to judge each person as good or bad, hero or villain. But I am hard-pressed to work out who are the heroes in this story. May I be just as reluctant to classify the people I meet today.

Ian Waddington