Gospel of Matthew 21: 28-32 (NIV)
28 “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.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “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. 32 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.”
While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. They challenged him, demanding to know by what authority he was teaching the people (Matthew 21: 23). Jesus responded and then, in the passage above, he put to them this parable-question. In today’s vernacular it is a “no-brainer”. The chief priests and elders gave the obvious answer, the answer that Jesus expected them to give. That answer allowed Jesus to point out to the chief priests and elders their grave error.
John the Baptiser had come to them to show them “the way of righteousness” and they did not believe him. They, chief priests and the elders of the Jewish people, should have been well aware of the way of righteousness. They should not only have been teaching it to the “common” people, their lives should, in every aspect, have been demonstrating it. Their public and private conduct should have been perfect examples of everything that they taught.
Jesus’ criticism of them was severe. He knew that the chief priests and elders had witnessed the responses of “the tax collectors and the prostitutes” to the teaching of John. Those responses would have been remarkable demonstrations of repentance – of people turning their lives around and making sincere efforts to please God. Having witnessed this radical change of direction in peoples’ lives, the chief priests and elders should have been moved to self-examination, to confession, to repentance and to belief in John’s message. They were not.
How easy it can be for us to point a condemning finger at the chief priests and elders. If we are familiar with the Gospel writings, we know that these were repeatedly depicted as the “baddies”. Might we be guilty of the very same faults that we identify in their lives?
What is the way of righteousness for us today? Is it to think and speak and act in precisely the way Jesus did? Has our immersion in today’s society blinded us to unrighteousness? Have we become more tolerant of unrighteousness in our own lives? If that is the case, are we not just like the chief priests and the elders of the people of two thousand years ago?
The Apostle Luke recorded John the Baptiser’s message: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance … The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3: 8, 9).
Are you producing fruit in keeping with repentance? What do you need to change in order to do so? When will you make that change?