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God has "two sons" and both give him grief.
When Jesus came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things. And who gave You this authority?"
But Jesus answered, "I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John--where was it from? From heaven or from men?"
They reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet." So they said, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
"But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to Him, "The first."
Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him."
Matthew 21:23-32 NKJV, condensed
A man had 2 children and unfortunately, neither one of them was worthy of their family name. You have to feel some sympathy for this father. For example, he said to his firstborn, "I'd like you to work for me today." But he said defiantly, "No way!" The father made the same request of the second child who said "Yes" but didn't mean it and never delivered. Meanwhile the first one had some regrets. I guess he felt guilty, so he went and did as his father desired.
This is a crazy maker! Neither kid would be straight forward and consistent with the old man. He never knew if anything would get done. I'll bet he often felt like saying, "Screw them! I should just go out into the countryside and hire some workers who will treat me with respect and give me a decent day's work." It was a waste of time to ask those sons of his to do another thing!
Why would Jesus tell such a story and who is he talking about! You guessed it. All too often in the eyes of God we are those two disappointing kids. Whether rebellious or well-mannered, we are in this picture. And in true Jesus fashion, the one who comes out better in the end is the one who knows he or she is a sinner.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem he made an impact. First by riding in on an untamed colt amid chants of "Save us now!" or as we know it, "Hosanna!" Then by declaring the court of the Gentiles to be part of God's house of prayer and driving the profiteers out and upsetting the tables of the moneychangers.
In the morning Jesus was back again, walking through the temple courts. The place sure looked good after that housecleaning. The general public gathered around to hear his stories, to eavesdrop on the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, to watch his unorthodox way of interpreting the Laws of Moses while ignoring some ancient traditions.
Today they witnessed a game--You asked me a question, I'll ask you one; you answer me, I'll answer you. The temple authorities had challenged the audacious behavior of Jesus with, "Who do you think you are? King of this place?"
Jesus countered with a trick question to which there was no safe response. It was a catch 22. The Jerusalem elders had never liked John the Baptist either, but the people did. John was already in his grave and they didn't want to resurrect this controversial subject. Since Jesus had created the rules, he naturally won this round. The bystanders were entertained. They loved it when those in superior positions were brought down a notch.
Then came the story, and the thought-provoking question: Which one of these two sons made his father proud? It's another parable from the heart of Jesus that's not a neat little package with everything wrapped up the way we like it. One son was rude and disrespectful, but actually did accomplish what his father asked; the other son was agreeable and polite, but didn't do what his father requested.
"Which one pleased his father?" The issue is not which one looked like the better son, but which one did the will of his father? Join the debate. Go back over the facts of the story. One said "Hell no!" but went anyway; the other said "Yes sir!" but didn't. The defiant elder son had a change of heart. He turned around and came back to his father's field and did as his father requested. The second son did not understand the concept of remorse and repentance.
What's the bottom line? I want to say--but for the amazing grace of God, none of us would get to heaven; the story puts all of us in our place, and no one can feel superior to another. However, that's not how Jesus ended it. Jesus compared the leadership at the temple to crooks and hookers and concluded the crooks and hookers will precede the religious people into God's kingdom!
This is outrageous talk. What right did Jesus have to say such a thing and make those influential people look so bad just a day or two prior to the Passover festival and in front of all these pilgrims and hometown folks! Everyone knew their rage would not simmer for long. There will be consequences.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: How much authority do you have? In what areas is your word accepted as "the law"? (If you're coming up short, have your group help you out.)
In what way does the parable of the two sons remind you of your own family or a family you know?
Everyone has regrets. What are some of yours?To what extent were you able to make amends for something you said or did?My father-in-law liked to say, "Look at the good side." What do we do if there appears to be no good side?
Jesus mentioned only two sons and two reactions to their father's request. What are some other possible responses?Think of the father as God and the sons as God's children. What is the task that God has for us? How well are you fulfilling that task?
This is a good place to review the teachings of Jesus and ask yourself, "Where and how am I doing what Jesus taught?"
How do forgiveness and grace play into this parable? Is it possible for someone who never "messed up" to understand and appreciate forgiveness?
This parable highlights the present condition of a person's heart toward God. If you repent, your former sins will not keep you out of God's kingdom. If you don't repent, your religiousness will not get you in. Is this how it works?
The leadership team at the temple honored prophets from the past but refused to accept the ones God sent to their own generation. Is it easier to recognize a dead hero than a live one? Explain your answer.
Why wouldn't Jesus directly answer the question put to him by the officials? Where do you see pretense and insincerity in this text? Did the religious elders deserve to be publicly humiliated?Since entering Jerusalem Jesus seemed to be deliberately calling attention to himself and stirring up controversy. Why might that be?
What Father's/Mother's Day gift would you like to give to God?