14 December 2010

Matthew 21:28-32

"Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of heaven 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." (vv. 31-32)


Today's reading follows on immediately from the passage we looked at yesterday, where Jesus was being quizzed in the Temple by the elders and chief priests about his authority. 

Despite refusing to answer their question (verse 23), Jesus decides that he's not done with them just yet and decides to tell a little story about obedience and experience. At the end of the tale he asks the chief priests and elders to answer another question: which of the two sons did his father's will? Compared with Jesus' previous question, this one seems to be a no-brainer, so the chief priests and elders answer confidently - the one who actually did the work, of course. 

We saw yesterday how the chief priests and elders were so keen to save face in front of the crowds at the temple. But, in answering Jesus' seemingly harmless question they have shown themselves up to be just like the disobedient son in the story. 

Here Jesus stresses the importance of being real with God - not hiding behind false promises or vague aspirations that never come to fruition. He doesn't care what you do or where you're from, as long as your response to God's call is genuine. In God's eyes, the elders and chief priests were no better than tax collectors and prostitutes, despite their elevated position in society. Jesus' story illustrates that those on the fringes of society were willing to change their minds and respond to God's call. But the Jewish leaders had hardened their hearts and would not believe John's teachings, even after they experienced his ministry for themselves.

But they had a lot to lose - for them to change their minds would have been an enormous sacrifice, because following John ultimately meant following Jesus. Changing their minds like the obedient son in the story would have meant public humiliation and loss of their social standing. It would have meant admitting they were wrong. But, even harder, it would have meant taking a chance that this Jesus was who he claimed to be - not just another crazy prophet or messianic wannabe. This would be a huge leap of faith. Perhaps that's why it was easier for the tax collectors and prostitutes to follow God's call - they really didn't have all that much to lose. But maybe if the chief priests and elders had focused less on what was at stake and more on what they stood to gain they might have responded differently. 

To Ponder

How have you responded to God's call on your life?

When was the last time you changed your mind about something important? What caused you to change it?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.