“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 repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 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 harlots 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 harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.”

Matthew 21:28-32

So many times in life we make decisions having no idea what outcome we are going to get. Take as an example, investing money in the stock market. We might get a good return. We might lose everything. This dissuades many people from taking a chance and investing. In the Gospel, Jesus basically tells us the outcome of so many of our choices. For instance, the choice to repent is met with His mercy, and with the joy of the angels. In Luke 15:1-7, we read,

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

This parable, like many of the parables of Jesus, illustrates the extreme love and care that He has for us. He poses the question, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4) The truth is, probably no one does that. If you have a flock of one hundred sheep and you are the shepherd, and one sheep is lost, you probably DON’T go find it, because to do so, you’d leave the other ninety-nine sheep unattended, vulnerable to attack, and likely to wander off and more of them get lost. The truth is that the 100th sheep is probably just let go.

Not so with Jesus. The one lost sheep is so valuable to Him that He would leave the other ninety-nine just to find the one. And when He finds the one lost sheep, He rejoices and all of heaven rejoices. What a beautiful image that is, that when we repent, when we come back from our mistakes, that not only are we forgiven, but the angels in heaven rejoice.

Which brings us to the story of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32. We get asked to do many things in our lives—by our families, by our friends, by our bosses, by the law, and by God. No one does the correct thing all the time. Jesus’ point in sharing this parable is to remind us that when we’ve disobeyed or failed to do something, we can some back and correct it, and that God will be more pleased with the one that initially does wrong and makes a correction, than the one who promises to do the right thing but later fails to do it.

The other point Jesus is making in this refers to the Jewish leaders to which He was addressing these words. He was pointing out how tax collectors and harlots, those who were ostensibly sinners and saying “no” to God by their actions, repented and found righteousness. While those who were ostensibly leading the temple, were in fact like the second son, posturing that they are doing the will of the Father and yet not doing so based on their actions. Sometimes we are quick to judge those outside of the Christian faith, or the Orthodox Christian faith when in fact, many might end up like the first son, coming into the faith later, while we, like the second son, are actually not being obedient to the way of God.

If you identify with the first son, there is no need to feel hopeless. Just reverse course and do the right thing, at any time. If you identify with the second son, in that you’ve said “yes” to God, make sure that your actions support your intentions. Because as we see time and time again, it is where we finish that matters with God, not where we start.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
Woe is me! I have defiled my mind with filth. But I pray to You, O Master: wash me clean in the waters of my tears, and make the garment of my flesh white as snow.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Five, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

It is not too late to “go into the fields.” Make a choice to “go” today!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here: https://amzn.to/3nVPY5M


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