What the ‘Parable of the Two Sons’ Teaches about Intentions and Faith

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Unfulfilled promises, faith, and a willingness to submit ourselves to God. Here’s what we should learn from this tale.

The parable of the two sons

“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.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward, he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

– Matthew 21:28-31(a)

Nearly all of us, at some point in our lives, should be able to identify with this parable. Whether it is our parents, friends, or someone else who has asked us to do something, we’ve refused or rebelled like the first son in this tale. Or, like the second, we’ve promised to do something – then fail to do it. Like the first son, we’ve likely all had experiences where we change our minds and do what was asked of us.

Do you see humankind in this parable?

Think about humankind. In His word, the Bible, God has asked humankind to follow His commandments. Many have rebelled. Many later turned from their rebellion and followed God’s commandments. Still, others have pledged to follow but have never done so.

A lesson in intentions

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

– English proverb (source unknown)

Although the above source to this English proverb is unknown, it is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, a Catholic abbot of the Cistercian order in the 12th century, Crosswalk reported. 

The above proverb certainly applies to the lesson we learn in “The Parable of the Two Sons.”

While initially having rebellious intentions, the first son realized his error, repented, and did God’s will. The second son professed good intentions but never delivered on the promise or submitted to the will of God.

Another takeaway is that God wants us to love Him willingly. God does not force us to do anything – that’s why we are given free will. The first son made no promise but ultimately had regrets and acted willingly.

A lesson in faith

Let’s look at more of this parable, beginning with Jesus asking, 

“‘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. 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 afterward change your minds and believe him.'”

– Matthew 21:31-32

In this passage, Jesus is referring to tax collectors and prostitutes believing John the Baptist received his baptism from heaven and that he was a prophet while pointing out that the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people did not believe.

Jesus points out that the elders, once shown the truth, did not repent from their unbelief, as did the first son in the parable, while being like the second son, professing faith yet never demonstrating it and rejecting the counsel of God sent through John the Baptist.

The takeaway here is that the Pharisees, for all their posturing of righteousness, won’t be the ones going to the kingdom of God before prostitutes and tax collectors. Why? Because the Pharisees offer only good intentions but don’t demonstrate faith by acting on them. Their intentions are empty, unfulfilled promises.