The Parable of the Two Sons
During my travels to Latin America when I was in my twenties, I visited many cathedral ruins in parts of Mexico and Guatemala. Living in the United States, we just can't comprehend the profound legacy that the church has brought to the cities south of our borders. Hundreds of cathedrals are found there, many of which are in now ruins, not because of warfare, but because our neighbors live in a highly active seismic region. I enjoyed walking among the walls of stones and living gardens even before I became a true disciple of Christ. A quiet peace fills those spaces like the calm after a storm. They remind me of when Jesus' disciples looked upon the grandeur of the newly rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. Jesus said to them as the stood in awe, “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13)
In this simple profound statement Jesus teaches two important truths. First, his body, the true temple of God, would be destroyed and as John explains it, “will [be raised] again in three days,” which refers to his resurrection. Secondly, the old Jerusalem, the old temple of God would be destroyed physically, figuratively and spiritually. The Romans did end up sacking Jerusalem and destroying the temple in 70 AD, but is that what Jesus is talking about as many commentators think?
For a moment, let's move on to the Parable of the Two Sons. I think this parable can help to shed light onto this topic mainly because of its context. In Matthew 21 we learn that Jesus had just entered Jerusalem where many people had worshiped him as king and savior. He then proceeded to the temple and kicked out the people who had been extorting others and selling their wares. Of course, this creates further upset among the religious authorities who enjoyed both the prestige and the cash-flow. They certainly weren't going to accept his authority and were devising plans to turn the people against him.
They tried to trick Jesus into revealing his kingship in hopes to make him look like a fool in front of the people and pit the people against each other and him. They asked him, "By what authority are you doing these things?" But instead of directly answering, he explained that he would answer their question if they answered his. His question was: "John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?" The authorities didn't care which answer was true, they just wanted the outcome that would best benefit them, so they feigned ignorance and did not answer. And neither did Jesus, at least not quite yet.
Like he does so often, Jesus replies to them with a parable. It's interesting to note that rarely does a simple answer tell the whole story. But for Jesus, his stories were answers that always told the whole story. He began:
“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.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Jesus is so clever. He redirects them back to John the baptist. And even answered their original question explaining where John's baptism came from: heaven. He explains that the baptism of repentance takes us into heaven. It's the first son that represents the people that come to the water. They are repenting from their previous "I will not." They are repenting from saying "No" to the authority of God. And through that baptism, they are rinsed clean and brought into the kingdom of God.
In the parable, we also learn about the second son, who is the liar. They are the religious authorities. These are the ones who say "Yes" to God on their own terms, rather than on God's. They say things like: I prefer my power. I prefer my standing in this world. I prefer my nice home. I prefer my stuff. I even prefer my family. I won't take risks for God. I don't want to look like an idiot. Me, a Jesus-Freak. No, not me. Um, he went that way.
The Parable of the Tenants follows, but I'd like to skip to the mysterious passage that provides an end cap to Matthew 21. Keep in mind that all of this dialogue is directed toward the Pharisees and the keepers of the Law, to all of us who construct our houses with our wherewithal and not under his authority.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.
Many have written about how this stone, Jesus, is the cornerstone, the foundation and base support for all of God's people. But what I want to highlight is the connection between the Parable of the Two Sons and these two persons who encounter this stone. Notice how one person stumbles and is broken, but the other is crushed.
The first son in the parable was broken like the one who stumbles onto Jesus. This son, who rejected God, was broken, but afterward he repented returned to his father. He was restored to kingdom work.
On the other hand, there's one on whom the rock falls. He is "ground to powder" as some translations put it. This person parallels the second son in the parable, the liar, the one who values himself more than God and rejects his authority. This person is crushed to smithereens by Jesus. Why would Jesus do that? Isn't God loving? It's actually not Jesus who does the crushing; it's the death of the Body of Christ that crushes this person.
To understand, we must look back upon the church ruins that I recall visiting so vividly. Many had gaping holes in their high-arched ceilings, but instead of having angelic frescoes, the heavens passed above with white clouds blowing by in the blue sky. Doves (actually pigeons, their close relative) flew in and out making their homes in the safety of the long upper galleries.
We all get a sense of the Church as being a building. It's almost as if Jesus is saying, "When the temple of God (my body) dies on the cross, the religious leaders and those who harbor their hope in their own authority and the security of the old temple will be crushed too." What the Pharisees did not understand is that what when they nailed Jesus to his cross, they destroyed the temple of God: their shelter, their hope of salvation. They were not willing to be repent, be baptized by John, and be carried with Jesus into resurrection living. As so, they stayed within the false-security of the temple they had built and were crushed by it figuratively and spiritually as they murdered Jesus, the true temple of God, on the cross.
Even to this day, the Pharisees, the second son, hide their sin within the walls of the crumbling fascade of the false-temple and are crushed under its weight. We must repent and bind ourselves to the true temple who was nailed to the cross. We are broken by Jesus. We are broken with him. But there, on the cross, our hope is secured in the resurrection joy of Christ.