The Parable of the Two Sons – Matthew 21:28-32 – Meaning and Commentary

1. Introductory prayer for the Parable of the Two Sons

I pause and slowly calm myself. I make the sign of the cross, becoming more deeply aware of God’s presence within me and in everything that surrounds me. I ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the gift of being moved by God’s word, which I am now allowed to read, listen to, ponder, and allow it to shape Christ within me (Gal 4:19), that I may become merciful, just as the heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). I ask for this in my own words or by using the following:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for continually forgiving us through Jesus Christ. Guide my lectio divina of the Gospel passage so that I may better understand how you forgive me. Awaken in me the desire and strength to become more like you and to be able to forgive others in the power of your forgiveness.”

2. Reading – Listening: The Parable of the Two Sons – Matthew 21:28-32

28 “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.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “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. 32 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.

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3. Thoughts on the Gospel: The Parable of the Two Sons – Matthew 21:28-32 – Meaning and Commentary

Jesus introduced a parable with the question, “What do you think?” With this question, he drew the attention of the priests and elders of the people, indicating his interest in their opinions. Since they had refused to answer his previous question about the spiritual authority of John the Baptist (Matthew 21:24-25), he gave them a new opportunity to express their thoughts, this time concerning two sons of a father who owned a vineyard. He invited them to work not only for him but also for themselves, for their needs, and for their inheritance.

The first son immediately rejected his father’s request, displaying great disrespect and disobedience. However, upon reflection and regret over his rejection and the tension it had caused, he repented and went to work in the vineyard.

The father also approached the second son, who promptly and generously replied that he would go. Yet, this was merely a pretense, for when the time came, he did not go.

Neither of the sons was perfect; both showed disrespect in different ways. The first son displayed it openly, while the second pretended. Consequently, his disobedience was even more painful.

Jesus concluded this brief parable with the question: “Which of the two [sons] did the father’s will?” They immediately answered that it was the first son. Drawing on their correct response and his own authority, he conveyed the striking truth that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God before them. In the parable, these sinners represented the first son who had repented.

Tax collectors were generally seen as sinful betrayers of God and His people. Prostitutes were also despised for their sinful lifestyles, as they sought to make a living through sin. Yet, these individuals had repented upon hearing John’s message. Their faith was evident in their repentance and baptism, and thus, they would enter God’s kingdom ahead of the Jewish leaders.

The second son, who feigned respect and promised obedience but did not fulfill the father’s will, represented the religious leaders. Despite their claims of respecting God and following Him, their actions did not align (Isaiah 29:13). Jesus pointed out the unusual yet tragic fact that they still refused to repent. They remained outside the kingdom instead of repenting and entering, as other sinners had done.

Through this parable, Jesus encourages us to reflect on the consequences of our decisions, especially those that have eternal significance. The choices we make now will impact our future, shaping it both on Earth and in eternity. Just as Jesus was interested in the thoughts of the priests and elders at that time, he is also interested in what we, his disciples, think now. He desires our honesty and wants us to share everything that is within us.

Together with God the Father, he calls us to repent, to align our words with actions. We can fully demonstrate our respect for the Father’s plan of love, His will, by fulfilling it.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to unite us with Jesus Christ, who became a true human, so that we may see how to live as true children of God. He always listened to the Father and fully carried out His will. When we become one with Him, and our feelings, thoughts, words, and actions are in harmony with His, we can together fulfill God’s will.

4. Meditation – Thinking

I am now reflecting on the heard Word of God. I am looking at Jesus and other individuals in the passage. I am observing how the Word of God touches my thoughts and feelings, how it reveals God to me and me to myself and others in Him. The following thoughts or questions can also be helpful:

  • Which of the sons am I more similar to? What does this tell me about my life and my relationship with God the Father?
  • Jesus became a true human to show us how to live as true children of God. What is He inviting me to?

5. Personal Prayer

In the next moments of silence, I talk about this with Jesus. I tell him what I think, what I feel, what I want. I ask him for the grace that I need for … (make your conversation with God).

6. Contemplation – Quiet moment with God

I allow everything within me to fall silent. I am simply present in God, just as He is present in me. Perhaps from this silence and stillness, I will sense even more of God’s address and His desire for me to be always with Him and to do everything with Him and in Him…

7. Action

When I enter into a personal relationship with God, He transforms me, makes me more loving, and inspires me to take concrete action…

8. Prayer at the end

“Heavenly Father, thank you for all the graces I have received through prayerful reflection. Help me, through the Holy Spirit, to be able to live it out and become more and more like your Son.”

9. Review of my prayer meditation or reflection

This is the time when I became aware of and articulate what was happening within me during prayer. The following questions can assist me in reflection:

  • What was happening during prayer? What feelings and thoughts could I discern within myself?
  • What did I learn about God, His relationship with me and others, and my own relationship with Him and others?
  • How did I conclude my prayer? What did I receive in it for my everyday life?
  • In the end, I can jot down my insights, discoveries, and realizations. I also note where I encountered difficulties, as these can be valuable in understanding God’s relationship with me and my relationship with Him. They can also help me find a more suitable way of praying. Then, I express gratitude to the triune God for everything.

Lectio Divina meditations are published and adapted with permission from the Jesuits home –

Text from the Bible – New International Version (NIV)

Let us remain close in the same prayer! May the Lord bless you abundantly!