On Second Thought
Second thoughts about a spouse, house, or job aren't usually good ones. But there are good second thoughts. One has thought better than at first. Jesus chides the chief priests and elders of the people for not having second thoughts let alone repentance. May we have both.
On second thought, who are the two boys in the parable? You can translate the Greek as sons' since the noun is masculine, but teknon is the word for child.' It is affectionate and softer than the Greek word son.' So who are these two boys?
The church fathers thought the boys stood for Jews and Gentiles. The Jews said yes,' but didn't do what his Father asked. The Jews appeared obedient. They had the trappings of the Old Testament Church, the Scriptures, the Temple, the priesthood, the ceremonies, but didn't do the will of the Father. The Gentiles rejected the Father and went after other gods, but when the Gospel came to all nations they repented.
Others appeal to the immediate context and say this is about the Old Testament church leaders that is who the parable is spoken to and the open sinners the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus mentions at the end. You can see that too, can't you? Outwardly the church leaders were working in the vineyard their Father had planted. Outwardly they weren't in open rebellion against Him. They said yes' but lived a secret life of no.' The open sinners were no, no, no.' Think of the 5 time divorcee at the well with her live in lover. Think of Matthew and Zacchaeus open tax collectors. They had second thoughts, changed their minds, repented even and their lives of no' became yes.'
The boys can be Jews and Gentiles or church leaders and open sinners, but if you hear it this way, you're not in the story. You can listen all day to preaching about the sins of others. You can hear how bad the church leaders of Jesus' day were and how sinful tax collectors and prostitutes are but unless you're one of the boys, you're not hearing this rightly.
About 10 years ago I stopped asking people if they would like to come to adult confirmation class. You know why? Every single person said yes' but never came. Ask just about anyone any spiritual question and people today say yes.' No' is a bad evil word. It's a vulgar word. So it's all yeses' to God. Yes, I'll do that. Yes, I believe that. Yes, yes, yes. It doesn't matter if you don't do it. It only matters that you don't say no.' But Jesus says it matters big time not what you say but what you do. So how do we get to the changing of the mind, the repentance of the tax collectors and prostitutes? How do we go from being boy number 2 to boy number 1? I'll give you a hint; it's by Boy number 3.
This is a short parable. We think we take it all in on the first hearing, but on second thought just who are the boys in it, and on second thought just what is the Father's will? "Will" isn't in the insert's translations, but that's what the Greek says and what the more literal translations have. "Which of the 2 boys did the will of the Father?" I know the answer is the 1st, but I'm telling you it's only because of the 3rd.
The will of the Father is that His only eternal Son should become Man, a Teen, a Boy, a Baby, a Fetus in time. You know the passages: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." And, "when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law." The Father's will was that His Son from eternity should descend into the womb of a human being in time to be incarnate in flesh and blood. Good luck trying to do this will of the Father.
I chafe and kick and strain and complain about the will of the Father for this boy, but boy-howdy the Father has never willed for me to do anything like this. O He has willed that I give up Sin, Death, and the Devil. He has willed that I give up guilt, doubt, and controlling the future, but this? Willing that His Son become a Man said C. S. Lewis is on the order of His willing us to become a crab, a slug, a worm. I'm getting ahead of myself, but didn't the Father will the last for His Boy' too? On the cross, doesn't the prophet David hear Jesus crying out, "I'm a worm and no Man?"
The Father's will was the incarnation which no earthly boy could do. It took God the Son to do that. The will of the Father was also to redeem all the boys and girls He lost in the Fall which is every single descendant of Adam and Eve. To redeem means to pay a price to get something back. The price to get back sinful boys and girls was fulfilling the Law the Father gave to them, both its requirements and its punishments.
Boy number 1 eventually did what the Father willed. He kept the Law. He went to work in the vineyard, but what about his saying, "No?" That's how it is in Greek. No polite, "I will not," but the defiant boy screaming at his father, "No! I won't." Does an earthly father punish such backtalk? He had better. Well the second boy says he will do the Father's will, but doesn't. So you can't say he kept the requirements of the Law, so punishment looms over his head too.
The Father's will is to redeem both these boys, but the Law convicts both of them. Thanks be to God there is a third Boy who has never said no' to Him and never said yes' and not did what He said. Thankfully there is a Boy who because He has fulfilled the requirements of the Law is able to be the perfect sacrifice to fulfill the Law's punishment. In order to hear the depth of the Father's love for all the boys and girls who are 1's or 2's in the world listen to Isaiah 53:10: "The Lord was pleased to crush Him to make His soul an offering for sin."
Run with the words. The Lord was happy to crush Jesus rather than you. He was pleased to see His Son suffer rather than you. O how wrong you are when you think God is making you suffer for your sins because this or that has befallen you. How could that be when He was pleased to do just the opposite? He made Jesus suffer for them, pay for them, carry them away from you once and for all.
You know what the Father's will is for all you boys and girls whether your 1's, 2's, or 1.5's or 2.3's? Jesus answers that in John 6. The work that the Father wants you to do is not to say yes' to working in the vineyard or even to actually working in it. His will is that you believe on Him who He sent. Believe that God the Son came into the womb to redeem your conception, gestation, and birth. Believe Boy' number 3 took your place under all the do's, don'ts, musts, and shoulds, of the Law keeping them in your place, so they no longer hang over your head. Believe He went into the vineyard alone and trod the grapes of wrath spattering you with His blood so that God can't see your sin or guilt any more.
On second thought, this text is going a way I didn't expect. I'm both of the boys, but thank God on second thought there's is a third Boy.' But what about John the Baptist showing the way of righteousness? First, the word "show" isn't there. NASB, ESV, and KJV all translate accurately, "For John came to you in the way of righteousness."
John came preaching against the sins of tax collectors, prostitutes, church leaders, and all boys and girls everywhere, but that's not the way of righteousness is it? What does Paul say in Galatians 3:21? No Law ever given could give righteousness. No, the Law "go work in the vineyard" either exposes the boy who doesn't really want to or shows the boy to be a hypocrite who will say yes' when he means no.'
John didn't come in the way of the righteousness of the Law for that only meant people who kept the Law and paid the price when they didn't keep it could go to heaven. John came in the way of righteousness apart from the Law. It was righteousness, according to Jesus which exceeded the outward righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It was a righteousness established by the third Boy. Do you remember when?
John the Baptist was involved. Jesus the sinless Boy of God came to the Jordan to be baptized by John who only baptized sinners who confessed their sins. Here comes the sinless Son of God and John is agog at the prospect of applying a sinners' Baptism to sinless God the Son. "John tried to prevent Him, saying, I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?' Jesus answering said, Permit it; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'" The righteousness that John came to give tax collector and prostitutes, chief priests and elders was that of Jesus.
This righteousness was so holy, so perfect, so complete that it caused hardened sinners, ugly sinners, the most lost of the lost to have a second thought about salvation. The righteousness of the Law gave them no hope. It said, "Do this and you will live." They couldn't do that, and so despaired. The church leaders heard, "Do this and you will live," and they said, "Sure," but didn't do it, and didn't care that they didn't. Where are you?
The Father wills that you receive the incarnation, redemption, and salvation of His only beloved Son as being done for you. Give a second thought to the commands and the demands God has put on you. He isn't trying to save you with them. He wills to expose your sins, to show that you can't be saved by doing. He doesn't want to hear from you, "Yes, I can work in your vineyard," but, "No, I can't but Jesus did in my place." He doesn't want you to approach Him in the way of your own righteousness, and efforts but in the way of Jesus' blood and righteousness.
See what the church leaders saw but didn't give a second thought. No one who approached God on the basis of works, law, effort ever made it. But no one who approached Him in Jesus' name, Jesus' works, Jesus' Body, Jesus' Blood, Jesus' Water, Jesus' Words was ever turned away. This is a second thought worth having that leads to repentance and into the vineyard. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20141019); Matthew 21: 28-32