It’s not what you say, it’s what you do — Matthew 20:28–32

The King’s judgements

Matthew has a thing about the number 3 when it comes to parables. The parables in chapters 8 and 9 are grouped in three groups of three, and here there are another three parables.

The context is that Jesus has come back into Jerusalem. The last time he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and threw out market traders, then he had cursed a fig tree. This time he is being asked about where he got his authority from. The straight answer is in the last post, see the links below, which is basically that he will not tell them. The long answer comes in three stories. This is the first:

A father and his two sons are setting up their freshwater fishing equipment.
Father, two sons by Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, USCDCP
Shared under a Creative Commons Licence

28 “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.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not’, but afterwards he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir’, but did not go. 31 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. 32 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 afterwards change your minds and believe him.

Matthew 21:28-32 ESVUK

They rejected God the Father

If anyone has been a parent and has never had a child say they will do something and then not do it I would be very surprised. All mine did this from time to time. I still do this as an adult, I genuinely forget about where the note I wrote to tell me what I am supposed to do is. People forget, and people change their minds.

Jesus used this simple everyday tale against the chief priests and the elders. They are the ones that say they do God’s will, yet they do not do it. They did not listen to God’s word through John the Baptist and did not do it. Like the son who says he will obey then does not they are not doing the will of his father.

These leaders saw themselves as God’s gatekeepers. People whose job is to keep the wrong people from coming to God, the same people who responded to the message of repent and come to God preached by John the Baptist and by Jesus. By rejecting the very people that God was calling they were rejecting God.

Jesus says this as a direct attack on the chief priests and elders and they knew it. But Jesus hasn’t finished yet, there’s two of these parables to come.

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