“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:31, NIV84)
I have to admit, sometimes Jesus’ words about the kingdom of heaven are a bit difficult to hear. Could you imagine being a religious leader in Jesus’ day? Your entire life has been dedicated and committed to your belief in God, and now Jesus comes in and declares that all your beliefs are wrong. In fact, He tells you that you are more ready for hell than you are ready for heaven. Ouch!
But let’s look at the rest of the parable. Jesus asked them (the religious leaders) to interpret the fact that a master had two sons. He told both to go out into the vineyard to work. The first son said no but then changed his mind and went. The second son said yes but then changed his mind and never went. Jesus asked the religious leaders, “Which one of them did what their father asked them to do?” They all admitted that the first son, although originally defiant, was obedient to the command because he ultimately went.
Based on that proper assessment, Jesus began to address the fact that they had heard John the Baptist’s message of repentance because “the kingdom of God was at hand”. They also had by now heard Jesus’ messages about the kingdom of heaven. Regardless, they had become defiant and refused to believe and accept the message. Like the first son, they said yes in the beginning, but ultimately said no when it mattered the most. In contrast, the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, who were living “no” lives, heard the message of John and Jesus. They were properly repenting of their sins. They believed and accepted the message and ultimately said yes when it mattered the most.
So, which son are we? This is the only question that matters when considering this parable. Have we become self-righteous religious people who have set up a kingdom of our own, and hence reject the message of the real kingdom when it comes? Or are we truly repentant believers in God’s kingdom? Are we believing and accepting the truths of Jesus’ kingdom without question? Are we faithfully going out into the fields that our Master (Father) has called us to go out into to work for Him?
It is my prayer that our lives emulate the life of the first son. Although we are sinful and unworthy of the place we have in the kingdom of God, we faithfully embrace God’s call to repentance and faith in His Son and go out in the field and work.