Read: Matthew 21
“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. Which of the two obeyed his father?” (Matthew 21:28-30, NLT)
Jesus was talking to priests and elders about submitting to the work of God, but they were resisting, while unlikely tax collectors and prostitutes were embracing it. The Jewish leaders were unwilling to open their hearts to God, and they were jealous of Jesus—the miracles he was performing, the crowds he was garnering, the authority with which he was preaching—so much so, that a few days later, they would have him crucified.
Jesus knew all of this, so to expose their hardness of heart and yet one more time, give them a chance to respond to the work of God, he told them a parable about two sons—one who was a problem at breakfast but a delight at dinner, and one who was compliant at breakfast but absent at supper.
Then Jesus makes a very clear application in verse 31. He asked which of the two sons did the will of his Father: The one who looked the right way and said the right things, but never really changed, or the one who seemed to be so way off track but at the end of the day responded to the Father’s will?
What Jesus was saying to the priest and leaders, and to you and me by extension, was that what matters is where you are when suppertime comes. You see, this parable isn’t about your intentions at breakfast, it’s about your actions at dinner. This is a supper story, not a breakfast parable. Jesus is talking about the invitation to enter God’s vineyard, which is a metaphorical way of talking about responding to the will of the Father. And the will of the Father is for people to be conformed to the image of Christ. That’s the work of God in the world today: Transforming your heart and mine into the likeness of Jesus.
What about you—are you a breakfast boy or are you a suppertime son? If you were to honestly apply this to your own life, are you saying “yes” to the vineyard—the work of God in your life—but never really following through on it? Or are you, even if you have so very far to go in the process of transformation, submitting your life to the Lord’s vineyard? In what ways are you looking more like Christ and in what areas do you still need to get into God’s vineyard?
Where are you unlike Christ? That’s where the work of the vineyard is. Most of us have areas that need to be brought into the vineyard: Our temper, our tongue, our thought life, our attitude…pieces of our lives that still don’t look like Jesus. We’ve set around the breakfast table and said, “you know, I better get into the vineyard in that area,” but we never really seem to make it there.
Jesus is inviting us to get into the vineyard, no matter what stage we’re at in the game, so that when suppertime comes, you and I will have submitted to what the Father wanted to do in our lives. There is a sense of urgency to this story; dinner is just about ready! So push back from the breakfast table and get into the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in those areas where you don’t look like Jesus.
“The process of being conformed to the image of Christ, doing the will of the father, takes place primarily at the point of our unlikeness to Christ’s image.” ~Robert Mulholland
What If God Took Over?
Changing to the image of Christ usually involves physical practices called spiritual disciplines—things we must do consistently over time that allows us to take on the character of Christ. If the Holy Spirit is prompting you to say yes to God’s vineyard today, what does that mean? What action do you need to take? What spiritual practices do you need to begin? Write down that spiritual discipline you need to engage, share it with a friend, and get into the vineyard. Don’t be one who says, “I will go” but never gets there.