Mules and Liars

August 25, 2020 | Megan Schemenauer

Similes often exist because of consistent evidence that something is true: for example, his eyes are “as blue as the sea” or a scent that smells “as fresh as spring.” More often than not, the sea does appear blue on the horizon and the smell of newborn leaves and flowers certainly is a welcome “breath of fresh air” after a dead, dreary winter. But similes such as these and more are used so often that they can become cliché , minimizing the truth behind the words. (Makes you give some added thought to the simile “hot as hell,” doesn’t it?)

One such simile is “as stubborn as a mule.” Even if you’ve never owned a mule or tried to pet one in a petting zoo, you’re probably familiar with the expression due to the nature of clichés. If someone were to compare you to a mule, for example, you’d probably be at least slightly offended.

In Matthew 21:28-29, Jesus tells the story of two sons, the first of which would be the perfect description of “mulish.” A father comes to his son one day and tells him to go work in the vineyard. Almost instantly, this hard-headed young man responds, “I will not” (v. 29).

Now I don’t know what sort of household you were raised in, but I automatically cringe at this part of the story because, in my experience, if I had mouthed off to my mom this way, the next sound I would have heard is a resounding slap. The Bible, however, does not record any physical discipline. Instead, it reveals a beautiful reversal with the simple words “but later he changed his mind and went.”

How many times has a moment like this occurred in my life where God tells me to do something and I refuse? Where I respond too quickly or too harshly? Where I make a decision “in the heat of the moment” that I later regret? How thankful I am for an all-knowing God who gives us room to change our minds!

While this first son could be compared to a mule, then the second son would have to be compared to a liar. Because when the father comes to his second son and gives him the same order, the second son responds, “I will, sir.” The perfect picture of respect, right? Only at the very end of verse 30, the Bible says, “but he did not go.” This second son lied straight to his father’s face! After this betrayal, Jesus paused the story to ask a question: “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Even the chief priests and the temple elders knew the answer to this question. They unanimously declared, “The first” (v. 31).

We get a clear picture of God’s expectations from us, His children. There are some of us who hear God’s voice and at first refuse, but eventually come to repent. Then there are some of us who immediately and respectfully tell God what we think He wants to hear, and yet we don’t follow His Word with our lives. We go out and live life the way we want to, with little regard to our Heavenly Father.

Jesus compares the tax collectors and prostitutes of His day to mulish children who were entering the kingdom of God ahead of those temple leaders.  Why? “For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did” (v. 32). These people may not have made the best life choices prior to hearing the truth, but much like the first son, they repented and eventually followed the Father’s voice. 

Clearly, God doesn’t care where we’ve been; He cares about where we are going. He sees beyond our past mistakes and focuses on our heart and our future. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Even if you’ve been “as stubborn as a mule” about listening to God in the past, it is as simple as “but later he changed his mind and went.” 

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be a mule than a liar any day. After all, as the cliché goes, “better late than never.”