28 “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’29 He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. 30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21:28–32 (NAB)
The first and most important requirement before God is to be real. It is more important to BE real than to TALK about being righteous.
Talk is cheap. This also reminds me of a story, one I am sure you have all heard. If you do, just admire the way I tell it!
There was this game warden who was trying to catch a guy in the act of poaching. This poacher always had a limit of fish and the warden was suspicious of how he was “catching” them, but whatever he did he could not catch him in the act. One day the guy invited the warden to go fishing with him. Of course, the warden thought that was a great idea as he might be able to figure out what the guy was doing if he went fishing with him. The warden met the guy at the boat ramp, jumped in his boat with him and headed to the fishing spot. The warden thought it was strange that there was nothing but a cooler in the boat, no fishing poles, no tackle box, no bait, nothing. When they got to the fishing spot the poacher opens up the cooler, takes out a stick of dynamite, lights it and throws it in the water. BOOM! Dead fish. The warden starts spitting and sputtering and telling the guy he cannot do that. The poacher opens up the cooler, takes out another stick of dynamite, lights it and hands it to the warden. The warden is sitting there holding a stick of dynamite with the fuse burning and wondering what to do when the poacher looks at him and asks, “So what are you going to do? Are you going to talk or are you going to fish?”
So talk is cheap…in fishing, and at the vineyard.
Lou Holtz, the famous former coach of Notre Dame, once said, “when all is said and done, more is said than done.”
Someone else said, “Talk is cheap - except when Congress does it.”
I’m not sure if it was Plato or Rodney Dangerfield who said “Anybody who thinks talk is cheap should get some legal advice.”
When he was president, Calvin Coolidge was known for his reluctance to make big speeches. A woman bet her friend that she could get Coolidge to speak to her, which was something he was reluctant to do. She went up to him and said: "Hello, Mr. President, I bet my friend that I could get you to say three words to me." "You lose," Coolidge replied dryly, and walked away.
In our story today, “which one”, Jesus asks, “did the will of his father?” The answer is one that the Pharisees cannot wriggle out of. The answer is obvious – the first son. Even though he initially said “no,” he later regretted his refusal, and he entered the vineyard. But, the second son, though his words were “yes,” his actions were “no.” Jesus inquired who DID the father’s will, not who SAID he was going to do it.
So, the Pharisees give the only answer that is possible: they admit that the first son was the one who did the Father’s will. And then, Jesus clobbers them.
“Tax collectors and prostitutes will go (literally, prosagoge “they are already entering”) into the Kingdom of Heaven before you.” Why? Well, they are like the first son – their words and deeds say NO to God’s will, but when John comes preaching, they repent. The Pharisees and Sadducees, on the other hand, they’re always insisting that they were serving God. And, to make matters worse, when they see those whom they think are the worst of sinners repenting at the preaching of John the Baptist – they STILL won’t repent themselves.
Let’s look at these two sons…we are in this story somewhere.
Dad says, “it’s time for chores.” First son says , “I will not”. I don't know about you, but when I was growing up, that was not one of the options I had with my dad. This answer is rude, curt, and disrespectful, such a one as would naturally issue from the lips of a person who was selfishly wrapped in his own pleasures, and caring nothing for the Father, who in this parable stands for God. But he repents. Repentance always precedes the doing of the will of God. The bold, self-willed rebel is the first son to yield and obey.
Maybe we have loved ones who have refused to obey God, or who have left the faith. Don’t despair for the restoration of the disobedient—maybe there is a son or daughter who has boldly left the faith, and don’t give up hope for the conversion of the defiant skeptic. I would much rather talk to a skeptic or an atheist or someone who has left their faith than a person who has just enough religion to know how to talk about it, but not live it.
This first son changes his mind, literally, he repented, and went” ; i.e. into the vineyard to work. The worst sinners, when converted, often make great saints.
The first prerequisite is to be real. Before anything else, live out what you believe. Life is too short for pretending—either pretending to be a Christian, or pretending to not be a believer.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes we think we need to be a wretched sinner to really have a conversion. Not everyone is going to be St. Augustine. I think of some cradle Christians, and how they are a powerful example
In 2 Timothy 3:14–17 (NAB), we read14 But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, 15 and that from infancy you have known (the) sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
We can grow up grateful, we don’t have to fall into great sin to have great love...like my daddy said, “you don’t have to go to Hell to preach on it.”
The second son said "I go, sir," and did not go. In the final analysis, all who ‘don’t go’ at God’s command into the field of service for Him are disobedient and rebellious, no matter how nicely they may talk about “the Lord’s work.” Talking about church and religion is not working for God any more than talking about wine is the same as gathering grapes.
Matthew 7 says, Not every one that says, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom, but only he who does the will of My Father.
Ver. 30.— “I go, sir”, Ἐγὼ, κύριε: Eo, domine, literally, "I go, Lord." This son is outwardly respectful and dutiful; his answer is in marked contrast to the rough “I will not” of his brother. He has the words down. "I go, sir." Do your kids ever say that, except when they want the car keys" If I ever said that to my dad, he would wonder what I was up to.
At the end of the day who talked, and who picked grapes? Who made a difference, who just sounded good at the beginning, in the meeting in the morning in front of the other brother and the father?
The last implication for us from Jesus’ parable I want to mention is this: it is always the right time to repent. Because God is patient, because he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, he waits. And that means for you, if you have let your mouth make promises to God that your life is not keeping, the time to repent is today. That’s why the scriptures teach “today is the day of salvation.”
God grant that we may be like those tax collectors and prostitutes who hear the Word of God and repent.