“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32)
This parable contrasts saying vs. doing. When it comes to doing God’s will, what is valued more, speech or action? Thomas Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ, “What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility and, thus, are displeasing to the Trinity? Esoteric words neither make us holy nor righteous; only a virtuous life makes us beloved of God. I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it.”
With regard to doing the will of the Father, both Thomas Kempis’ quote and Jesus’ parable show us that talk is cheap and action is valued more than speech. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
Doing the will of the Father takes precedence over any sort of empty lip service. This parable also contrasts starting vs. finishing. What each son said at the start was less important than how each son acted in the end. What matters most is not how we start, but how we finish. It could be said that Judas started well and finished poorly. At first Judas eagerly followed Jesus, but in the end, he was guilty of betraying the Lord. The Penitent Thief crucified next to Jesus, also known as St. Dismas, seemed to have started poorly in life but finished well. In his dying moments he sought God’s mercy and confessed his guilt to Jesus.
The Book of Ecclesiastes states, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; better is a patient spirit than a lofty one.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) And the prophet Ezekiel spoke saying, “When the just turn away from justice to do evil and die, on account of the evil they did they must die. But if the wicked turn from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they save their lives; since they turned away from all the sins they committed, they shall live; they shall not die.” (Ezekiel 18:26-28)
The Parable of the Two Sons makes clear that when it comes to God’s will, what we do is more important than what we say, and how we finish is more important than how we start.