Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)
23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" 24Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 26But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." 27So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. 31Which 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. 32For 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.
“Actions speak louder than words.” This truth is often the conclusion people come to after reading the Parable of the Two Sons. Once again we witness a plot twist—a reversal of expectations. One son says he will, but he doesn’t. The other son says he won’t, but he does.
The point of the story is that the religious leaders of the day give God lip service, but in the end their actions don’t match their words. The “sinners” don’t bother with lip service, but in the end are found teachable and therefore transformable. They are ones who heed John the Baptist’s call to repent.
Herein lies the hope of the gospel. The sun may set on the vineyard, but it never sets on God’s grace. If we can see our need for a savior, we may ask God to guide us as David did, and soon discover every moment is pregnant with possibility of repentance and grace.
God of grace, thank you that you never let us go. Move us from lip service to action. Forgive us, guide us, and remind us who you are and who we are to you. Amen.