“There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first...” (Matthew 21:28-31)

“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?” (Matthew 21:28-31)

What does the parable of the two sons mean?

Jesus is responding specifically to some temple priests and elders who came to Jesus when he was teaching in the courtyard to question his authority. So they had asked Jesus:
"By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?" (Matthew 21:23)

“There was a man ..."

Jesus is giving an analogy for two types of people regarding their dealings with God. The son who said he would help in the vineyard but didn't represents those who have rejected God.

"go and work today...'"

The topic of Jesus' parable is service. This is our relationship with the Supreme Being. We are His servants - this is why we were created. But notice that the father is giving his son the choice to work in the vineyard - which is why he could say no. They are not slaves, in other words.

The Supreme Being gave us the freedom to love and serve Him or not because love requires freedom to love or not to love - and the freedom to serve or not.

"'later he changed his mind and went."

Jesus is describing a person who rebels against the Supreme Being but then comes to realize they need the Supreme Being. They decide they want to return to their innate relationship with the Supreme Being.

Virtually everyone living in the physical world has rejected the Supreme Being - this is why we are here and not in the spiritual world with God now.

"Then the father went to the other son ..."

The son who tells his father that he will help in the vineyard and then doesn’t represents those who take positions of authority amongst organized ecclesiastical religions - in effect representing to others that they are God's representatives, but instead have only their self-interests at heart.

Jesus is describing one who is duplicitous, in other words. A hypocritical relationship of outward oaths without commitment.

Why is this Jesus' response to the question regarding Jesus' own authority?

The second son in Jesus' parable refers to the temple priests and elders, who were pretending to serve God but were really serving their own interests. They were collecting salaries and claiming authority, but they are using their authority for self-serving purposes. Inwardly they seek to further their own reputations and authority, but outwardly claim they are God's representatives.

Today we can apply this to those who pretend to be God's representatives by wearing the robes and taking titles of priests, reverends, bishops, gurus, ministers, imams or popes - but do not actually seek to please God.

"Which of the two ...”

What does "what his father wanted" mean? The King James version puts it as:
"Whether of them twain did the will of his father?"
And the New King James in more modern English:
“Which of the two did the will of his father?”
The keyword comes from the Greek θέλημα (thelēma), which means according to the lexicon, "what one wishes or has determined shall be done" and "will, choice, inclination, desire, pleasure."

Jesus' analogy is speaking of doing the will of the Supreme Being - pleasing God. Jesus was speaking of whether the Pharisees were pleasing God:
"The first," they answered. (Matt. 21:31)
"Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (Matthew 21:31)
This final response will be discussed further, but we can see that Jesus has been comparing the second son to the priests and elders - who put themselves above the tax collectors and prostitutes - as they claim to be serving God but aren't.

Notice that Jesus is breaking down one's relationship with the Supreme Being into the most basic terms regarding relationships. Why?

Did Jesus teach that God is a person?

All of Jesus' teachings and interactions with God - his prayers and his praises - indicate that God is someone we can honor, pray to, serve and try to please. Simply because Jesus taught doing the will of God indicates that God has a will. These all point to the reality that Jesus taught that God is a person.

Jesus also taught that each of us can have a personal relationship with the Supreme Being.

Each of us is looking for such a personal relationship. We search high and low for a real friend - or someone we can refer to as a soul mate. Yet here in this world true friends are few, and even the person we think is our soul mate proves to not be so perfect after a few years.

This is because our real soul mate is the Supreme Being. This is who we are looking for as we search the world for "the one." The Supreme Being is that "one" person we are seeking as we search for someone who will love us unconditionally and stick with us through thick and thin.

It is also the Supreme Being who we seek as we seek beauty, pleasure, and fulfillment.

As we observe others as well as ourselves from within we can easily see that without our relationship with God we are alone and empty. No matter how famous or wealthy we may be. We can see this as famous people with vast wealth and millions of fans will commit suicide. Why? Don't those millions of adoring fans give them any fulfillment? No. Only a relationship with the Supreme Being can fulfill us.

Jesus is speaking about service here because service is the key component of love. When a person loves someone, they will automatically do their will. They will do things that please the person. If their beloved wants to go somewhere, the person who loves them will take them where they want to go. If their beloved wants a certain type of food, the person who loves them will go get that food for them.

Is service related to love?

Just consider a person who wants to be our friend in order to get something from us. Do we think they love us? Certainly not. We understand they want to be friends in order to get what they want. This is not a loving relationship.

Yet this is the kind of relationship that many teachers are saying we should have with God. They teach that our relationship with God is based on getting stuff from Him: Asking Him to fix our leg or help our football team win.

Yet this is not the relationship that Jesus is teaching us to have with God. He is teaching us to have a relationship of loving service with the Supreme Being - where we serve Him. A relationship of wanting to please God.

And this is the type of relationship that Jesus had with the Supreme Being:
"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me." (John 5:30)