Not long ago, a friend of mine asked me if I had a favorite parable of Jesus.  “Of all the parables that Jesus told, which one seems to speak to you the most?”  There are, as you know, a handful of very popular parables that, even for non-Christians, bear universal significance.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, is so universally accepted as an example of how to show kindness even to strangers that hospitals across the country bear its name and RV’s bear its smiley-faced image on their bumpers.  Another, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is so well-known that anyone – a celebrity or a family member or a friend – who has ever blown it, only to finally come to their senses and return home, is called a “prodigal son.”   Most of us find special meaning in these parables, not only because we can imagine ourselves in the stories, but because many of us have lived them.

But of all the parables that Jesus told, I have always been struck by the one about the father who asked his two sons to go work for him in his vineyard (Matthew 21:28-32).  In this short and simple story, Jesus says that one of the sons protests, saying to his father, “No, I don’t want to go,” only to change his mind (or his heart) later and go.  The other son says, “You bet, dad, I’ll be right there,” only to change his mind and never go.”  Jesus asks, “Which of the two sons did the will of the father?”

Over the course of my life I have returned again and again to this parable for personal direction and provocation.  Every day of our lives, we are asked to do things we would prefer not to do, or are unwilling to do.  Sometimes, in an effort to placate ourselves or others, we say “Yes” to these obligations with no intention of ever doing them; or we say “No,” only to have a change of heart.   Everyday of our lives, we think of something good we intend to do, or feel called to do – a good deed, a big dream, a noble plan, a vision for our lives.  We convince ourselves and others that we will do it, but so much time passes that, after a while, we start to think that just of the thought of doing it must count for something.

If there is one parable that tells the truth about how we so often live our lives, it’s this simple parable about the two sons – one whose no means yes, and the other, whose yes really means no.  In the end, says Jesus, it doesn’t matter what we say, because the will of God is never honored by mere words or good intentions.  In the end, all that matters is this: did we do the work?

What keeps us from doing the important work of our lives?  Self-centeredness, or self-doubt?  A lack of courage, or a lack of conviction?  A fear of losing control, or a fear of too much responsibility?

Between the “call to action” and the “job well done” is where the real battle of the human will is daily lived, and where our salvation is ultimately won