Matthew 21:28-32 (NIV) “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“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. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
Jesus spoke these words to the chief priests and elders who had just refused to identify the source of John’s baptism. The parable is short, and has a single point: promises to God to follow and obey Him are not what are important, but following through on what He commands is. The son who initially refuses to do what the father commands, but later repents and does it, is ultimately judged to have obeyed the command. But the son who pledges to do what the father commands, but doesn’t follow through, is ultimately judged as disobedient despite his promises.
The parallel Jesus is drawing is clear. The despised tax collectors and prostitutes who initially refused to go God’s way had repented at John’s and Jesus’ preaching, and were now doing the things that God required of them. They would thus be judged by God as obedient. But those elders and priests who had pledged to live for God, but who were really living for themselves, had refused to repent, and were now judged by God as disobedient, despite their earlier pledges. God is not interested in words of devotion, but acts of obedience, and in these the tax collectors had jumped into God’s kingdom ahead of the priests and elders.
But it is important to see that the doors to God’s kingdom were not closed to these men even then. Jesus was still speaking to them, still pointing the way. If they repented, the way was open. But if they continued to refuse to repent, soon the door would be shut, leaving them on the outside to face God’s judgment, while the tax collectors and (former) prostitutes were inside enjoying God’s blessing.
Father, words are easy, and many Christians have made pledges of obedience to You when they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But as time passed, they wandered into carelessness and even disobedience, not honoring their pledge to do Your work. It is not those who pledge who are deemed righteous, but those who actively obey. Lord, search my heart and show me anyplace that I am not fully obedient, anyplace that I have grown slack or careless, so that I can instantly repent and get moving in the right direction. Amen.