Let us pray: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the events that led up to the Gospel lesson for today, a multitude follows Jesus. Some were true followers, that is, His disciples. Others there were people in desperate need of the Savior's healing Word. It seems likely that there were people in attendance from our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There were children whose mouths hymned perfect praise in the temple, crying “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt. 21:15). There were known sinners like tax-collectors and prostitutes. And there were the chief priests and elders who sought to discredit and rid themselves of this Jesus by arresting Him.
These leaders of the Jewish community had the right and the responsibility to protect the religious life of the Jews; for that was their function. Yet, on this occasion, they misuse their privilege for an evil purpose. They refused to have the gift of repentance bestowed upon them and they are hardening their own hearts to the truth Jesus speaks and is.
In Old Testament times, a principle is set forth that evil men will become victims of the traps which they set for others. Solomon writes, Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance (Prov. 28:10). The psalmist writes: He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out (Ps. 94:23). Jesus, knowing their evil intentions, replies, not with an answer but with a question. Often we see our Savior responding to His opposition by asking them a question in return. Here, He is no different. He tells them that He will answer their questions if they answer His. Jesus, thereby, frees Himself from their verbal trap, and lays one of His own. He asks them: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man” (Matt. 21:25). Jesus stings them in the temple and within earshot of the multitude by asking them a question about John the Baptizer, a question they feared answering. While not answering their initial question directly, the Incarnate Son of God, our Savior, speaks this parable instead.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but 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, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go 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 the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him (Matt. 21:28-32).
In the parable, both are children of the father and the meaning is that both are sons of Abraham; whether elder or tax-collector; whether physically sick or soul sick; whether chief priest or prostitute. Yet as the Apostle Paul writes: For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring
Now, what is our initial reaction concerning this first son? He really gets to us, doesn’t he with his reply of “I will not do what you say!” He gets our blood boiling. His answer really upsets us and irritates us. Imagine the reaction his answer would bring in the home or at school or at work. Our anger rises along with the hair on the back of our necks. What a disobedient, spoiled, disrespectful child! Surely he needs to be punished by his parents, disciplined at school, or given the pink slip by the boss. If you or I answered to our authorities in such a way, we surely would reap those consequences.
Contrary to the first son, the second son says, “I go, sir.” Oh, now there's a response that will make any parent proud, every teacher thankful, all boss pleased. We have a law-abiding citizen promising to be obedient. Just take a look at those two sons. One is a disgrace while the other is an up-standing example to us all. But this is not where the parable ends. Let us follow these two sons.
First, let us consider the second son, the one whose mouth speaks of obedience. The father calls him and says, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” The son replies, “I go, sir,” but does not go. With whom might this son be likened? There are a multitude of examples but let us list a few. The second son, the one who said, “I go, sir,” but does not go may be likened...
... to a sick, little boy whose mother tells him to get dressed in order to go to the appointment. He says, “I am going to get ready, Mom,” but he does not do it.
... to a little girl whose dad tells her to go to her room and write a thank you note to the person who has given her a gift. She says, “I go, father,” but she does not write the note.
... to a member of catechism class who is told to go home and memorize a Bible verse. That class member says, “I go, sir,” but the Word is not taken to heart.
... to a confirmed member of the congregation who is asked if they will, by the grace of God, suffer all things, even death, rather than fall away from the Lord. They reply, “I will,” but do not.
... to a longtime member of the congregation who is called on the telephone and invited to come to the Divine Service and partake of Holy Communion. They reply, “I will be there this Sunday,” yet doesn't make it this Sunday or the next or the hundred Sundays following.
Let us now consider the third son in this parable. “What third son” you ask. “The parable has clearly only two sons. What do you mean a third son?”
You are under the impression that there is no third son in this parable. Yet there is. The third Son is the One who is speaking the Word; that is Jesus – behold the third Son. From eternity the Father said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” The Son said, “I go,” and He went and did exactly, completely and perfectly what His Father wanted Him to do. He kept His own Law for the world and for you. He paid the price for all the sins of the world and that includes all of yours. He gave Himself over to suffering and death for the life of the world and for you, even as he cried out to the world and to His Father Who sent Him, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and spoke to the one who has said to Him, “Go”... “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). On the cross He defeated the world’s deceiver for you. He defeated death for you. And as testimony to such a victory, He rose again from the dead.
Because this third son said it would be so, the Counselor would come, that is, the Holy Spirit would be sent to cause the apostles and evangelists to write down the very Word of God, and to work repentance in the individual. The Spirit causes the writing of the Words of Jesus, who is the Word, in the Book and in the heart. What words? Well, words like these...
A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went
Yes, we return to that evident sinner, the one who boils our blood with his answer, or does he? He is told to come into the vineyard to work and he replies that he will not. But then, afterward, he repented and went into the vineyard. He did a 180... an about-face. Even though he said he would not, he had a change of mind. With whom might he be likened? The first son, the one who said, “I will not,” but then repented, may be likened …
... to a sick, little boy whose mother tells him to get dressed in order to go to the appointment. He says, “I will not,” but is given the gift of repentance that leads him to the Physician who cleanses the soul by forgiving the sin in perfect absolution.
... to a little girl whose dad tells her to go to her room and write a thank you note to the person who has given her a gift. She says, “I will not go, father,” but then, like the lone leper, returns to the Lord and gives thanks to Him for His Word of mercy and love.
... to a member of a catechism class who is told to go home and memorize a Bible verse. That class member says, “I will not,” but then, in repentance wrought by the Holy Spirit, looks up the memory work and learns it by heart... “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
... to a confirmed member of the congregation who is asked if they will, by the grace of God, suffer all things, even death, rather than fall away from the Lord. They reply, “I will not,” but then, in the night of terror and the pangs of conscience brought about by the Holy Spirit working through the Law, they repent, thus falling at the feet of the Redeemer Who came to seek and save.
... to a longtime member of the congregation who is called on the telephone and invited to come to the Divine Service and partake of Holy Communion. They reply, “I will not be there this Sunday,” and then, led by the Holy Spirit, comes to the Table of the Lord to receive the very Body given for them and the true Blood, shed for the remission of all their sins.
Again we come back to the third Son, Jesus, who asks a question concerning the other two sons, namely, the first son who said he would not go and then repented; and the second son who said he would go but did not. The question was intended for all within His hearing to ponder personally and to reply collectively, for surely there is but one answer and it is an easy answer. “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The answer: “The first.”
What other answer could there be? Certainly no other, for Jesus constructed and told the parable in such a way that the answer was clear for everyone who heard His Word that day and this day. They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go 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 the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him (Matt. 21:31:32).
And why is this so? Because, even though these obvious breakers of God's Law are by nature sinful and unclean and have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, they have received the gift of repentance and look to Christ for forgiveness. Surely, this is why John came, to call people to repentance and this is why Christ came, to call and welcome them into His Kingdom, doing so gladly and with great joy.
And that those repentant sinners are going into the Kingdom of God before the second sons speaks both Law and Gospel. It is the Law that has not yet done its work on these chief priests and elders, and as such, they will hear no Gospel. They are not to the point where they acknowledge that they have not kept the Law. Though they are of Israel they are not in the Kingdom of God. They are not yet thirsty for the Living Water.
Still, it is most certainly true that the Lord wants the Good News to be proclaimed to them and they enter the Kingdom of God. For Christ truly wants all, especially the unrepentant, to hear the words that bring eternal life and salvation. What words? The Gospel, of course. But what words? Namely, “Dearly beloved, you are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.
The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.