Matthew 21:28-32

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.

The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21:28-32

Back where I grew up, both sons would be in trouble. The first for talking back and the second for not doing the chores. But God, cast here as the father, doesn’t directly comment on the reaction of either. Jesus does that for us as the narrator. He tells us that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will beat the religious folks to the place of righteousness and peace.

It seems clear to me in this text that Jesus is openly criticizing the religious establishment. We religious folk are cast as the son who says yes but doesn’t. The others, the scandalous, the unclean are cast as the brother who says no but does. Let this be our Monday morning wakeup call.

Let’s step into the shoes of tax collectors and prostitutes and see what we can learn. Immediately we would feel their shame. No one likes tax collectors. No one admires prostitutes. The whole community judges them harshly and they breathe that in daily. The tax collector channels their judgment into his own resentment and ends up all the more harsh in his extortion. The prostitute tries hard to steel herself against the pain of her reality by shutting down her inner voice of self-respect and self-care. She has learned that wine helps but nothing makes the pain go away.

Then along comes Jesus. He sees them with compassion rather than judgment. He tells them that God loves them and has a place for them. He, like John the Baptist, says that the door to a new life is marked “Repentance.” The renewal of their minds, turning around their thinking, seeing themselves and others with fresh new eyes. They want what he offers. He breaks their hearts. He shatters their resistance. Suddenly they are shocked to realize that they are letting themselves be loved. Their lives change.

But the religious folk? They are proud of themselves. Proud of their upright standing in the community. Proud of how they are NOT like the tax collectors and prostitutes…and blind to just how much they have in common. Then Jesus comes along and dares to expose their pride, their pretention. Not because he doesn’t love them but because he does. For Jesus also sees their place and their potential for good…it has just been twisted and distorted and lost.

The easy way out of this text would be to say that “we’re all like both sons.” Far better to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit and see where they might lead us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, if we refuse to bow to you then our necks get stiff. If we refuse to let you love us then we get hard on the inside and out. If we care only what the neighbors think of us then we no longer care about our neighbors. Come to us this morning. Walk through our resistance and fear that would keep you away as you walked through that door on Easter night. Touch us anew with your love that we might be freed to do what we can do in the vineyards of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Matthew 21:28-32”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    I agree with your analysis of this scripture and greatly admire the easy way out paragraph..

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