In the final week of his life the religious leaders were questioning Jesus, trying to trap him into saying something that would give them power over him, something that they could use to do away with him. They asked him by what authority he did the things he did (Mtw. 21:23).
He turned their question around, as he often did, asking them by what authority John the Baptist did his work. Of course they couldn’t answer without making themselves look bad.
He then tells the parable of the two sons. A father asks both sons to go work in his vineyard. One says he won’t but repents and does it anyway, while the other says he will but never shows up. My dad used to modernize and retell the story this way:
A father comes to one of his sons and asks him to take out the household trash. The son cusses him out, tells him to go empty his own blankety blank trash, and goes back to doing his own thing.
The father then goes to his other son and asks him to do the same thing. With flowery words the second son says, of course I’ll empty the trash, but never gets off the couch to actually do what the father asked.
Meanwhile the rebellious son regrets what he said to his father and gets up and actually takes care of the trash. Now, which son would you say actually loved the father?
Actions, not words, reveal the heart.
The story Jesus told was a veiled slam against the religious leaders who were questioning him and looking to do him harm. They say they were loving, obedient children of God, but their flowery words and “lip service” is all He got. Everything else they do is self-serving.
And the very people Jesus was hanging around with, those whom the religious leaders were condemning as “sinners” are the very ones who were repenting of their rebellion against God and were coming into the kingdom and following Jesus.
Jesus is not about flowery words. He’s about the status of one’s heart. He’s about the actions of our lives that spring from our hearts. In another place Jesus said,
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
He said… “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (see Matthew 15:7-20)
Notice again the connection between the mouth and the heart. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying our words don’t matter. They do. In fact the words should be a reflection of the heart. The words we speak are just one of the many actions that reveal the condition of our heart.
I don’t want my worship to be vain, empty, self inflating words that fall flat. I want my words and actions to match my heart. And it’s out of the love and gratitude in my heart that I want to please God.
I want to be the third son who says to the Father, “Yes, Lord, I’ll work in your vineyard. I’ll take out the trash.” And mean it and do it.