Parable of the Two Sons

“Parable of the Two Sons”
A reflection on Matthew 21:28-32
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
©️2023 Gloria M. Chang

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “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.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go. 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. 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 (Lectionary)

Obedient Outcasts

Addressing the chief priests and elders, Jesus jolts them with his Parable of the Two Sons. The first son irreverently defies his father’s order but changes his heart. The second son honors his father with his lips but disobeys. “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Jesus asks. “The first,” they reply, prompting Jesus to compare the obedient son with the outcasts rejected by the religious authorities.

Indeed, “tax collectors and prostitutes,” though outwardly resistant to God, change their hearts (metanoia) and receive John’s baptism of teshuva (“return”). In the Hebrew context, teshuva, derived from shub (“return”), more accurately translates John’s ministry than “repentance,” which comes from the Latin word poena (“penalty,” “punishment”).

The chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees—the models of religious observance—reject the “voice in the desert” foretold by Isaiah. Ultimately, they disobey the Father’s will by neglecting his vineyard, a biblical image for Israel.

“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17 (cf. Matthew 9:13)

One son worked; 
The other shirked.
Rogues return; 
The righteous spurn. 

Traditional Chinese Translation


Leave a Reply