Jesus was obviously no stranger to controversy. He wasn’t crucified out of random chance. Neither did he get along with the religious folk of the day. Instead, Jesus often found himself in dicey situations. In Luke 4, after citing a prophecy from Isaiah, the townsfolk nearly threw Jesus off of a cliff after he criticized the people’s failure to do justice! Jesus also claimed divinity and even challenged the political order of the day–if Jesus were God, then Caesar was not! Jesus was a controversial figure, even back in his day.
Even though it might not seem like it, the same controversial aspect is also true for Jesus’ parable of the two sons. We explored what this parable means for values like integrity and how we should always seek to do Godly work, instead of just being “all talk.”
But the son in the story who promised to work in the vineyard, yet never showed, was a profound critique of Jesus’ peers. This is especially true at the parable’s end where Jesus explicitly says that the tax collectors and prostitutes belong in God’s kingdom. On the other hand, others tragically rejected God (or never showed up to the father’s vineyard).
Consider for a moment the various messages God sent humanity throughout the Old Testament:
- God’s beginning with Abraham included a promise that Abraham’s family ought to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:2).
- Deuteronomy details many regulations and laws for how to treat the poor. For instance, 15:11 says, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”
- The prophet Amos called out how Israel was treating the downtrodden: 2:7 “They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed” and 5:11 “You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine” (5:11).
- And one could never forget the simple message of Micah 6:8–“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
So one of the major interpretations of this short parable is Jesus “calling out” the religious order of the ancient world. They were the ones who promised God to follow his way. They were the ones who had heard God speak through the prophets. The tragic thing was that they didn’t have the actions to back it up.
And yet we also find ourselves in the same position, too. Instead of following God’s guidance, we go our own way. We are like the son with no integrity–ignoring the father’s requests to care for others.
God’s message never really changed throughout scripture–we are to be a blessing to others, care for those less fortunate, and be righteous in how we live life. We have the same choice as the characters of the bible did. Will you heed God’s commandments? Or will you ignore them?