Introduction. Read Matthew 21 28-32.

This short and simple parable of Jesus is true of human nature; it applied to the religious elite in the time of Christ; it remains true of some church goers to this day.

It is convenient to divide this exposition up into four parts:

(1) The son who refused to work in his father's vineyard.

We need to remember that Jesus likened this son to the tax collectors and prostitutes who had opted out of the Judaism of the day.

What were the reasons for the uncooperative attitude of the first son?

(a) He did not appear to realise that he had a stake in the family vineyard. He seemed unaware that the vineyard was part of his heritage and it was in his interest to invest time and energy in it.

(b) Under no circumstances did he wish to work with his po-faced brother. He didn't find the prospect of working side by side with his smarmy brother at all appealing.

(c) He resented being told what to do. He wanted to be free to do as he pleased. He was old enough to make his own decisions. So, he took umbrage and replied bluntly and rudely, "I will not."

I can identify with this son. I was never very polite to educational advisors who told me how to teach. The RE advisor for Suffolk told my headmaster that I was the rudest teacher he had every come across.

(d) He had better things to do than the boring work of pruning or hoeing vines. There were more exciting and fulfilling activities than labouring in the vineyard.

(e) He knew of easier ways to get rich than tending vines, picking grapes and making wine.

It is easy to see how the rebellious son resembles those on the margins of Jewish society. The tax collectors and prostitutes did not feel they had a stake in Judaism. The spiritual leaders, the Pharisees and scribes, promoted a legalistic, all rules and regulations, religion. They were not the best of company. They made rules for others to keep that they did not keep themselves. There was a whiff of hypocrisy about them.

The five reasons I have given for the son's belligerent rebellion also apply to the many who, although brought up in a Christian home, reject Christianity and leave the church.

Young people feel that there are better things to do with life than attend boring old church. They certainly resent being told how to live their lives by the man in the pulpit. It is not as though they enjoy the company of Christians who are dismissed as being guilty of hypocrisy. So they are inclined to be really unpleasant, disagreeable in the extreme, if invited to attend a Sunday service.

(2) The son who agreed to work in his father's vineyard.

This son was like the religious and political leaders, the chief priests and elders, who had no time for either John the Baptist or Jesus.

Why did the second son agree to work in the vineyard?

(a) He wanted to make a good impression and to be well thought of. My colleagues, Ros and Es, had a completely different approach to educational advisers to me. They agreed with everything an adviser said and gave the impression that they would implement the instructions that they had received. My colleagues then proceeded to ignore the new directives. In this way they earned a reputation for being co-operative and progressive while remaining unmoved by the latest developments in education.

(b) He thought by saying the right thing he would keep his father sweet. The second son probably had a low opinion of his father's competence. He spread abroad the rumour that father was a little gaga.

(c) He hoped that his idleness would never be found out. Perhaps, someone else would do the necessary work in the vineyard.

(d) However unsatisfactory his attitude, his brother who refused rudely and ungraciously to do his father's will, was much worse. At least he had been polite and shown respect.

Many today are just like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old. They attend church, they say the right things, they keep in with God. But, they are not really committed to Jesus. They are not prepared to do his will and work hard in his kingdom and for his kingdom. Their religion is all about keeping up appearances - like the comedy character, Hyacinth Bucket.

(3) Why didn't the second son actually work in his father's vineyard?

There are four possible reasons:

(a) When he said, "Yes," to his father's request he was thinking more about himself than his father. A simple, "Yes," would avoid confrontation and unpleasantness giving the impression of co-operation.

(b) He hadn't a very high regard for his father. If he was old and gaga then he might even forget that his second son had agreed to work in the vineyard.

(c) The second son did not really love his father. He had no desire to actually please him. If he had, then surely he would be working in the vineyard without being asked.

(d) He didn't much care about the state of the vineyard. The second son was quite content to let the vines sprawl anywhere. The vines would produce some grapes. Pruning was a waste of time.

Once again Jesus is painting a picture of the religious leaders of his day, who gave the impression of godliness but were not actually devoted to God or his interests. They were not concerned about getting the best out of the ordinary Jewish people. Their chief aim was a cushy life for themselves.

We also have a description of the attitude of the casual church attendee of today who is not very concerned about the spiritual welfare of the lost. They worship at their convenience. They are not fully committed. Evangelism would not feature on their to-do list.

Many nominal Christians tend to picture God as a kind of easy going, indulgent, father figure. They lack respect for him. For others, God is remote, distant and detached and as such it is impossible to truly love him.

(4) Why the first son changed his mind.

The reasons the first son repented should reflect why the tax collectors and prostitutes might repent. They are:

(a) Perhaps someone took the first son to task about his barefaced disobedience. Maybe his mother or his sister or a friend spoke to him about his attitude. They might have told him that his father deserved better. If that is the case the first son's change of heart illustrates the power of personal witness.

(b) The first son's blatant bolshiness and needless rudeness was such as to arouse regret. He had behaved with wilful disregard for his father's feelings. The father did not deserve such a reaction. His request was perfectly reasonable.

The behaviour of prostitutes and tax collectors in Jesus day was nothing for them to be proud about!

(c) He desired to be reconciled to his father. In his heart of hearts the first son knew that he had a good father, certainly one who was very forbearing. The rift between the disobedient son and his father was not conducive to the son's happiness.

(d) There was a straightforward way for the first son to be reconciled to is father. He could humble himself, get involved in the vineyard and work hard on his father's behalf.

John the Baptist offered the worst of men and women a way to be reconciled to God. He called on them to repent, to be baptised and to live in a way pleasing to God.

Jesus made things clearer. Men and women, who are estranged from God, need to repent of their sins, deny themselves and follow him. The main priority of the believer should be to cultivate the fruit of the spirit, a veritable orchard of good things, to the glory of God.