the other son

What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”

“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted? 

“The first,” they answered.                  

Matthew 21:28-31


The other son. The one who says he’ll go, but then doesn’t. He’s the one who talks a good game. He’s the one that says all the right stuff when his father asks him to do something. He is willing, at least for appearances, to do what he is asked. But then, when no one’s looking, when the father has left with the expectation that he will go and do what he said he would do—he doesn’t do it.

This “other son”…he is us. Or at least, he is me. Not always, but too often.  

I want to please, to obey, to go when the Father says go, to do what he asks me to do…but sometimes I want other things more. Jesus doesn’t tell us why the “other son” doesn’t go even though he said he would, but knowing me like I do I would say that something “better” came along. And by “better” I mean something he wanted more at the moment. Something that distracted or pleased or interested or otherwise drew his attention away from what he had told his father he would do.

I don’t believe that he intended to lie to his father. In fact I think quite the opposite is true. I think this because the other son is a lot like me. Just like me, the other son wants to please the father, but he also likes to please himself.

And so the father asks him to go and work in the vineyard and he responds in the affirmative. Why wouldn’t he want to do what his father wants from him? But then, later, when it’s time to go, other things are occupying him. I know this story. It’s been my story over the years.

The Father calls me to live life a certain way, and I’m all about it…until I’m not.

And so Jesus tells the story, to me as much as to those listening on that day. And in the story I find myself. For me, I usually find myself in the other son. I’m rarely the first son. I don’t usually tell God “no” straight out. I’m far too cowardly for that and far too interested in obeying him. Genuinely, I do want to obey. As I said, my problem is that too often I just like pleasing myself more.

But maybe you find yourself in the first son. He has his own issues too, but in the end he at least does what his father asked. Either way, whether we are more like the first son or the other son, one thing seems clear to me today: Our relationship with the Father still needs work.

As Jesus moves closer to the cross this Monday of Holy Week let’s recall that he went there so that we might have the privilege of even having a relationship to work on. Without Jesus we would not be first son or other son. We wouldn’t be in the family at all!

The cross is coming. This is Monday—it will be here Friday with all its death and pain and suffering. And Jesus goes willingly towards it, for us.


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