28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, `I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. 30 And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.
Old Testament Reading: Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13
1 Ah, soiled, defiled, oppressing city! 2 It has listened to no voice; it has accepted no correction. It has not trusted in the LORD; it has not drawn near to its God. 9 At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. 10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, my scattered ones, shall bring my offering. 11 On that day you shall not be put to shame because of all the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.12 For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD– 13 the remnant of Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid.
Meditation: Jesus asks us a simple question: What do you think? Who will inherit the kingdom of heaven? Scripture warns that the proud and the haughty will fall, but the humble and lowly will be raised up. Pride leads to sin and rebellion. Humility leads to repentance and submission to the will of God. The prophets of Israel warned their people that unfaithfulness and disobedience would lead to their downfall – they would be scattered among the nations and lose everything that was once precious to them – their temple and holy city Jerusalem, their royal priesthood, their unity as a holy nation, and their covenant relationship with God as his chosen ones would be damaged as well. Israel suffered disgrace and lost hope of mercy and restoration. The prophet Zephaniah reminded his people that God would bring healing, pardon, and restoration to those who turned back to him with repentance and trust.
Jesus shocked the self-righteous Jews, who outwardly practiced the external rituals of their religion while inwardly harboring evil thoughts and intentions, by declaring that the tax collectors and harlots would enter the kingdom of God before them. Jesus illustrated his point with a simple story of two imperfect sons. The father amply provided for his sons everthing they needed – food, clothing, and shelter. He thought they would be grateful to work for him in exchange for his generous provision and care for them. He expected them to show their gratitude and respect through their obedience and diligence in tending his vineyard. Although the “rebellious” son told his father to his face that he would not work for him, he afterwards changed his mind and did what his father commanded him to do. The “good” son said he would work for his father, but didn’t carry through. He did his own will contrary to his father’s will. Now who was really the good son? Both sons disobeyed their father; but one repented and then did what the father told him.
Jesus makes his point clear: Good intentions are not enough. And promises don’t count unless they are performed. God wants to change our hearts so that we will show by our actions that we respect his will and do it. God offers each of us the greatest treasure possible – unending peace, joy, happiness, and life with him in his kingdom. We can lose that treasure if we refuse the grace God offers us to follow in his way of truth, love, and righteousness. Jesus encourages us to think – to think about the consequences of our choices, especially the choices and decisions that will count not just for now but for eternity as well. The choices we make now will affect and shape our future, both our future on earth as well as in the life of the age to come. Are you ready to obey your heavenly Father and to choose for his kingdom of righteousness and peace?
“Lord Jesus, change my heart that I may desire to do whatever is pleasing to you. Help me to respect your will and give me the strength, joy, and perseverance to carry it out wholeheartedly.”
Psalm 34:2-3, 6-7, 17-19, 22
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.