Jesus entered the temple courtyard. While he was teaching there, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “Who gave you this authority?”
Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. Where did John’s baptism come from? Was it from heaven? Or did it come from men?”
They talked to each other about it. They said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But what if we say, ‘From men’? We are afraid of the people. Everyone believes that John was a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I am doing these things either.
“What do you think about this? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
” ‘I will not,’ the son answered. But later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son. He said the same thing. The son answered, ‘I will, sir.’ But he did not go.
“Which of the two sons did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “What I’m about to tell you is true. Tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God ahead of you. John came to show you the right way to live. And you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. You saw this. But even then you did not turn away from your sins and believe him. – Matthew 21:23-32
Jesus loved telling stories to illustrate truths. One of His most famous stories is often referred to as The Prodigal Son. It tells of a father and his two sons. The younger one takes his dad’s money and sets off for some wild living. The older son stays home with dad but holds a nasty grudge. It turns out both sons need their father’s forgiveness.
You’ve probably already guessed that today’s reading is not that story. 🙂 Today’s reading includes a lesser-known story Jesus told that also happens to be about a father and his two sons. Both stories bear some striking resemblances:
- They both have a son who at first disobeys his father, but then has a change of heart.
- They both have another son who likes to keep up a good appearance, but in the end cares very little about actually obeying the father.
- Perhaps most importantly, both stories were told as a response to the grumbling of religious leaders. It was clear that they weren’t too comfortable with the riff-raff Jesus surrounded himself with.
Jesus made it clear that it’s not how you start off that’s most important. It’s what you do after you’ve come to your senses and find yourself waist-deep in pig slop. It’s what you do after you’ve told ol’ dad he can work in his own vineyard, then feel that twinge of sorrow, and wonder if it’s too late now to turn things around… Ask the tax collectors and the prostitutes…
They’ll tell you it’s not.