a bandaged heart

Forgiveness, Yeshua’s Parable of the Two Sons

a bandaged heart, forgiveness

The purpose of a parable, which is a sermon delivered in person in its original setting, is to persuade those standing nearby. Who is Yeshua seeking to persuade with this parable? Is he comforting his disciples who are like the first son or is he trying to save the obstinate who are standing nearby to criticize? Is Yeshua offering here real forgiveness?

“28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. 30 The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”
(Matthew 21:28–32 NET)

The first son represents the sinners who came to John the Baptist and became followers of Torah and the faithful looking for God’s salvation.

The second son represents the Jewish leaders who said they would follow Torah and wait for God’s salvation, but who are insincere, corrupt, and blind. Their insincerity is proven by their failure to respond to John, the prophet of God.

The young son disrespected his father, but had a change of heart. Yeshua compares him to publicly known sinners, people whose misdeeds are visible as opposed to the hidden evil that is in all people. This young man openly said, “I will not.” He did not hide his lack of devotion to his father.

But he had a “change of heart” (metamelaetheis, μεταμεληθεὶς), which implies both regret and repentance. This brought him forgiveness. Yet the quiet evil of the others — those reputed to be righteous — continued to keep them from the kingdom of God.

Better a known sinner who regrets and becomes enlightened than all the hidden sinners whose misdeeds and ill-will are kept quiet.

Most importantly, and I think Yeshua’s persuasion is aimed at the humble ones listening to him more so than at changing the minds of obstinate opponents, we are assured that God accepts a change of heart. We have to know that “God will not punish forever,” and that he welcomes back every heart that regrets wrong and seeks love.

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6 Comments

  1. I do believe you missed the point of Rav Yeshua’s question. His audience answered it by referring to the repentant son who went into his father’s vineyard to work after having refused initially. But despite this one’s change of heart, and the audience’s conclusion that this one did ultimately do what his father wanted, Rav Yeshua’s response to them was to indicate that they were wrong. In truth, neither son did what their father had wished and requested, which was both to assent willingly and to obey. The audience response was to favor the repentant one, comparable to the “tax gatherers and prostitutes” who repented and believed/trusted — recognizing that while the second one had paid lip service to his father’s wish by agreeing to go, he failed to follow through on his promise of obedience (and not yet even repentant about it). Thus the audience was almost correct to favor the one who actually acted on his father’s expressed wish, but wholly incorrect in its failure to recognize the meaning of the key phrase in the question about what the father actually wanted. Thus the audience still gave the wrong answer, to which Rav Yeshua responded that the repentant sinners actually would have had a better insight into their failure vis-a-vis their heavenly father’s actual wishes; and thus they were better prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven than was the audience that was still shortsighted about those wishes.

    Thus we see that this parable really reflects the principle of 1Sam.15:22 “…Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices [i.e., representations of repentance] As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.” Unlike Rav Yeshua’s audience, we mustn’t stop short by focusing on mere repentance, as valuable and as necessary as it may be. Instead, we must press onward to what is better, which is a diligence to obey which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees whom Rav Yeshua cited in Mt.5:20 (and in Mt.23:2), which is the true criterion for entering into the kingdom of heaven and for greatness therein (cif: Mt.5:19).

    1. Yeshua did not indicate their answer was wrong, PL, but their refusal to do what they knew was right. They knew the son with the change of heart was right. But they did not follow through with their own change of heart. I think you missed Yeshua’s point. People know the answer but don’t do what they know.

      1. Take another look at that conversation, Derek. Rav Yeshua asked which of the two sons did what his father wished. His audience responded that the repentant one (indicated by his change of heart) had done so. Rav Yeshua then told them that exemplary sinners would enter the kingdom before any of them would ever do so. Does that not seem like a criticism to you? It certainly does not appear to me like a pat on the back to say they had answered correctly.

        Now, Rav Yeshua did accuse this particular bunch of having not repented or felt any shame because these exemplary sinners had done better by believing Yohanan’s message of repentance and acting accordingly. Their answer indicates that they recognized that a change of heart in the direction of obedience is better than lying (or lazy) disobedience. Rav Yeshua’s criticism certainly should have challenged them that they had not even done what they admitted was a better course of action. Nonetheless, his parable contained what is called in modern parlance a trick question. It implied that the correct answer was one of the two choices presented, and his audience chose what appeared to them to be the appropriate selection — even if they could be faulted for not living up to even *that* limited standard. However, had anyone in that audience been listening to Rav Yeshua’s frequent emphasis on the higher implications of Torah, they might possibly have responded similarly to my previous response about neither son having responded as his father truly had wished.

        Of course, this brief passage demands to be placed into a context that might have justified Rav Yeshua’s accusation about their rejection of Yohanan’s message as well as his own. We must connect it with the preceding few verses about chief priests and elders challenging his authority while teaching in the vicinity of the temple, identifying them as a politically savvy bunch who couldn’t acknowledge the validity of Yohanan’s message for fear of consequences of one sort or another. Their identity and their response also contain veiled implications that they likely were Sadducees rather than exemplars of Pharisaic, Hasidic, or Essenic piety. Consequently it is understandable that they didn’t “think outside the box” of the simple question posed about the behaviors presented in the parable. They were not merely average people failing or refusing to do what they know to be right. Their problem was even worse, because they were ready to deny even *knowing* what is right, fearing its “political” consequences.

        1. True repentance is displayed by actions. The son who repented was the sincere son. His repentance was displayed by his subsequent actions. The others were phonies who gave lip service but followed up with zero actions.
          God will never reject the truly repentant heart. He is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.

          1. I should add to that, that actions without heartfelt devotion are just as phony as lip service with out actions.

  2. Respectfully I think Derek is correct. The response from Rav Yeshua was never that their answer was wrong. Something else other than the answer is wrong. The idea is that prostitute and tax collectors will go into the kingdom of God before the audience and this is clearly in reference to actions rather than an answer to a question.

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