Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)
Verse 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?" Verse 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. Verse 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?' Verse 26But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." Verse 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.
Verse 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.' Verse 29He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. Verse 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Verse 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. Verse 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.
“What they do speaks so loud that I can’t hear what they say,” is a proverb from my childhood. My mother would use it to explain why the way some people acted made what they said untrue. In Jesus’ story what the two sons said did not agree with their actions. One said he would go and work in the vineyard, but didn’t; the other said he wouldn’t go and work in the vineyard, but did. When Jesus asks the hearers, the chief priests, and elders of the people of Israel, which of the sons did what their father wanted, of course they realize it was the one who went to work in the vineyard.
Then Jesus turns the story around, and points that their behavior around John the Baptist is parallel to the first son’s behavior. They saw the tax-collectors and prostitutes going out to John to repent, so doing what God wanted, repenting—which the chief priests and elders were not willing to do.
Help us, Lord, to not be afraid to change our minds and repent of our former actions. Amen.