Jesus is continuing His teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. He is also continuing to address the chief priests that came up to challenge His authority. We are ready for round two! My bet is on Jesus.
Jesus returns to using parables with the chief priests. They are skilled enough to understand Jesus’ meaning, and if they weren’t Jesus actually spelled it out for them after He quizzed them. The parable He uses first is about a father and his two sons.
I am going to assume that the sons in this story are young adults and already have some degree of their own life going on outside of the father’s house. My reason for this is that, if these sons were children, I seriously doubt they would get away with the behavior of 1) telling the father no when told to do a job or 2) saying they were going to comply and not. It is easier to see number two happening with children, as it happens a LOT and requires corrective measures. If number one happened with my child, he would find himself on the receiving end of some serious consequences and then would be required to do as he was told anyway.
The father was the owner of the vineyard. The sons would one day inherit it, but for now they simply worked in their father’s vineyard. As the owner, the father still had authority over the sons, but they had some autonomy within that authority. They were allowed the choice and the father respected their choice. The father didn’t have to agree with their choice or even like it, but he accepted it.
I can see parallels between this story and God’s Kingdom along three different lines:
The first line addresses those who have been adopted into God’s Kingdom and have become sons and co-heirs with Jesus. We are all commanded by Jesus to go into the field and work.
The second line deals with mankind as a whole. All are characterized as one of the two sons. We have the choice to accept what God has provided or not.
The third line is a contrast between the two covenants that God provided. The covenant of the law is the second son, and the covenant of grace is the first son.
In all three lines the “sons” are given a command and they have a choice to make. They can either say yes or no to the choice. Our Father won’t force us to make the choice He desires. Our Father will respect our choice, whether He likes what we have chosen or not.
This is the initial scenario Jesus laid out before the people and the chief priests. Now it is time to build on it. For our story our sons’ names are 1) Michael and 2) Ruben and our father’s name is Owen
Owen arrives in the kitchen very early this morning. There is much work to be done in the vineyard today. The grapes are at their peak and need to be harvested quickly to preserve their flavor. Owen has hired several men from town but he also needs both his sons to help supervise the workers and lend a hand in the harvest. Owen can hear sounds coming from his sons’ corners of the home. Owen goes to Michael’s room and knocks on the door. Michael calls out, “Enter” and Owen opens the door. Owen says, “Michael I need you to go and work in the vineyard today. There is a lot to do today and I must have your help to get it all done.” Michael looks at his father and says, “Dad, I’m not going today. I have made other plans.” Owen stands there for a minute thinking about Michael’s reply. From the look on Owen’s face it is clear that he is troubled by Michael’s refusal, but he says nothing as he finally turns and leaves Michael’s room.
Owen walks to the other end of the home where Ruben’s room is. Owen knocks on Ruben’s door and is again bid to enter. As Owen enters Ruben’s room he says, “Ruben I need you to go and work in the vineyard today. There is a lot to do today and I must have your help to get it all done.” Ruben smiles at his father and says, “Sure dad. I’ll be there as soon as I get some breakfast.” Owen smiles at Ruben and turns to leave the room.
Michael has been thinking of the look on his father’s face since Owen left. It was a look of worry. “Maybe I shouldn’t have refused. He doesn’t usually come to me with such urgency unless he really needs help. I think he really needs me. I’ll cancel my plans and go help him. I know it will take a load off his mind.”
Owen goes out and meets up with the foreman and tells him that Michael won’t be coming out to help but that Ruben will. He tells the foreman that he wants him to assign Ruben a group of workers and have them start on the west end of the vineyard this morning. As they are going to be one “supervisor” short, because Owen had counted on both boys being willing to help, Owen asks the foreman to assign his most trusted man to take Michael’s place on the east end of the field. Owen will work the north quarter with a group of men and after the foreman gets the other two groups set up, he will start on the south end. The plan is to meet in the middle by the end of the day.
Owen takes his crew and they begin picking. Michael approaches the foreman minutes after Owen leaves. “My dad said you needed help today. What do you need me to do?” The foreman replies, “Your dad said you weren’t coming today. What happened?” “I had a change of heart. He sounded like he really needed the help. I will have to apologize to him for my attitude when I see him later. So what is my assignment?” The foreman sets Michael up with a crew and sends him to the east side of the field to begin harvesting.
Twenty minutes go by and there is still no sign of Ruben. The foreman decides he cannot wait around any longer and assigns the west side to a group supervised by his most trusted worker and then takes his own crew to the south quadrant. There is a two man crew that always remains at the barn to unload the baskets as they are hauled in after filling. The foreman tells them to have Ruben come find him when he finally shows up.
Harvesting has been going well and it is time to break for the noon meal. Everyone brings their baskets in and meets up at the barn. Owen is surprised and pleased to see Michael come walking in carrying his heavy basket. “Michael, I thought you weren’t going to be joining us today.” “I’m sorry father for my attitude this morning. I know you needed the help, so I decided that this was where I needed to be.” “Thank you son. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
As Owen hands his basket to the two men tasked with emptying them, he looks around trying to spot Ruben. When he doesn’t see him he goes over to the foreman and asks him about Ruben’s absence. The foreman tells Owen that Ruben never showed up. He tells Owen that the crewmen in the barn were watching for him and were to send him out if he arrived but they hadn’t seen him either. Owen is obviously worried by Ruben’s absence. He wonders if something has happened to Ruben. Owen quickly walks over to the house and finds Ruben at the kitchen table with several of his friends. “Ruben I thought you said you would help me in the vineyard today. What are you doing here?” “Some of my friends stopped by right after you left. I didn’t realize it was so late. I’ll be there shortly.” Owen leaves the house and returns to the barn. It’s time to get back to work.
The hard day’s labor is finally over as everyone meets back in the barn for the last time today. Owen and Michael are dirty from head to toe but satisfied with their labor. There has been no sign of Ruben all day. The crew has all been paid and released for the day and it is time now for a much deserved rest. As Owen and Michael walk back to the house they talk about the day. As they approach the house they see Ruben coming in from the direction of the road.
“Ruben”, calls Owen. “Where have you been? You told me this morning you would help me in the vineyard. You even reassured me you would be right out to help when I stopped back by the house at noon.”
“After you left my friends told me that one of our friends who had been serving in the army was in town and this would be our only opportunity to meet up with him. I haven’t seen him in quite a while so we went and hung out together for a couple of hours. I figured you would be ok with that.”
“Ruben I trusted you when you told me you would be there. You could have at least come to me and let me know what was going on. I was worried about you when you didn’t show up. You even promised me a second time that you would come. I’m very disappointed in you and your attitude. This morning Michael had told me he had other things to do and wasn’t going to be available to help. I respected his decision and his honesty, even though it meant I would have to work harder to make up for his absence. But instead he actually came and helped all day because he knew I needed him. For his honesty and his help, I am giving him this year’s label. For your dishonesty and disrespect, you will receive nothing from this year’s crop.”
We know and the chief priests know which of the two did the father’s will. In my story we also see which one was honored by the father for his faithfulness.
At this point Jesus is pulling no punches. He flatly tells the chief priests that they are NOT doing the Father’s will. They are the second son. They have made promises to God that they have broken time and time again. The tax collector (like Matthew) and the prostitute (like Mary of Magdalen) at least came to do the Father’s will, after initially refusing. The latter will inherit the Kingdom.
John was the Father’s messenger to His sons. No matter what John said or what results were seen from his ministry, the religious leaders refused to believe or change. They saw the truth but chose to reject it. Willful blindness, just like the willful disrespect and disobedience of the second son. Professing all along that they would do the Father’s will while blatantly doing just the opposite.
Father God, I know I have been both of these sons at one time or another in my behavior. In my eternal future, I am the first son. I repented of my behavior and came to do as You instructed. I am truly sorry for saying no in the beginning and for all the times I do it in my daily walk. I know I am fully Your child and nothing I can do will ever change that, but I don’t always “work in Your vineyard” as You would have me do. Sometimes it is because I’m afraid of getting dirty. Other times, I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to be doing. And still other times I just plain and simply don’t want to do the job You assigned to me. Please forgive me. I’m so sorry for my attitude. Please ask me again. I want to rebuild Your trust. I know I am going to mess up again, but please help me not repeat the same mistakes every day. I want to say “make me Your instrument” but I’m afraid of disappointing You again. Please give me little jobs and successes that You can build upon. I know I’m not ready for the big ones yet. One step at a time Jesus. Teach me daily to follow You.