1 Corinthians 16:4-12
Today we have heard a short parable about a man who had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
Notice the answer of the first one. He didn’t say “I can’t”, or “I can’t now”, or “I can’t for some reason”. He bluntly declared, “I don’t want to!” This is the lowermost point in a relationship. “I don’t want to” means ignoring any other laws and obligations except my own will. Look at the second one, though – how willingly he agreed! By calling his father “sir”, he professed full recognition of his authority and showed devotion and piety.
All of a sudden, the first one “repented and went.” And the second one just didn’t. The one who protested so blatantly and impudently, suddenly won a great victory over himself. But the one who seemed obedient and faithful, turned out to be the last traitor.
After telling the parable, the Lord asked “Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” The Pharisees replied, “The first”. This is how everyone would have answered, too. Except, of course, for the second son himself. He would not even have thought that this parable was about him. Neither did the Pharisees think that this parable was about them until the Lord said directly, “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”
It is not the first time that the Lord contrasts the seemingly devout and universally respected people with those who are despised and driven by base passions. That’s because these latter ones have one advantage, so to speak, that is: the one who answered “I do not want” to God immediately got close to the edge of the abyss of hell. He does not have illusions or hopes anymore; he has broken up with all at once, and challenged everyone. He who says, “I am coming, sir,” demonstrates both his awareness of and his commitment to the laws of God’s world. It is especially tempting to say, “I am coming, sir,” when everyone around answers shamelessly and brazenly: “I do not want to do it!” In this case, you may think that you have already fulfilled the will of your heavenly Father just by saying yes. But then there is the I don’t want skulking inside you, and it lingers gradually in the comfort of self-satisfaction and praise. The faster it grows, the stronger the external obedience is. The second brother is accustomed to being always right. Having found the proper words to answer to his father’s request, he will surely find excuses to justify himself when his father calls him to account.
And now, whether there is only one person or a whole nation that says to God, “I’m going, sir” – what can go wrong? Apparently, everything is peaceful and quiet, and suddenly there comes the year 1917, and can you imagine what suddenly erupts from under an external cover of piety? No matter how justified or motivated your betrayal might be, God has already announced his verdict against you: “Whether of them twain did the will of his father?”
The transition from visible loyalty to the deepest betrayal is sometimes elusive. How can we test ourselves whether or not we come to do the will of our Father? There is only one way. Your father is sending you to work. Do you work or are you idle? Do you see your sins? Do you get hold of yourself? Are you willing to endure the hardships and tribulations of life? Do you accept temptations gladly? And if you don’t, maybe the work is already going on without you. When you said, “I’m coming, sir,” you actually went the wrong place somehow. You consider yourself absolutely right, but God has already passed his judgment on you.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds