“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.
There’s nothing worse than someone telling you they will do something, and then not doing it. From minor to large things, this is the case. I tend to not have a lot of grace for this – it’s something I’m working on. I’m working on this, because I am not perfect. As much as I value this character trait, I fail at times in this area too. I can think of a few times lately when I’ve said I would do something and then forgot. Even though they were relatively minor things, by forgetting, I let someone down. Now, imagine I had done so willingly! If I repeatedly told you I would do something only to not do it, and intentionally so, would you dare to trust me again? Probably not. Wouldn’t you likely move on to other friends, other colleagues, other pastors, that you could trust? Probably so.
The gates of the Kingdom of God are open to those that desire to come in. It doesn’t seem like people who truly desire to enter, and who are willing to confess their sins, repent of them, and follow Jesus will be denied access. This is the simple point of our passage today. Jesus would rather have a person say that she won’t enter the Kingdom, only to change her mind, than the opposite. I think Jesus realized there was a lot of the opposite. There were many, even the leaders of His own people who said they would go to the Father, but would not be doing so – not in the way that Jesus pointed, anyway! As a result, tax collectors, prostitutes, and all manner of desirous folk were entering in their place. Those who the religious elite of Israel would have looked upon as undeserving of God’s grace were experiencing just that because they simply desired it, and moved towards it. Jesus points out that John came as pious and righteous, and he was rejected. Instead, Jesus has decided to move directly to those at the margins, to beckon to all, but to spend his time where he was wanted. As it turned out, sinners were the ones that wanted Him. Go figure!
There are lots of parallels to this passage. The preference of one who would say, “I won’t go,” only to later go being better than the one who says, “I will go,” but never will, brings to mind the risen Jesus’s rebuke of the Church in Laodicea for being neither hot nor cold. In addition, the notion that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God in the place of the allegedly “righteous” reminds me of the dinner party Jesus describes in Luke 14:15-24. There, the host of a dinner party thrown for his “friends,” the wealthy, land-owners, powerful, and elite, finds himself with a party with no guests, after they all prove to be busy. Instead, the “poor, lame, crippled, and blind” are invited into dine in places of honor. This is not a unique theme in other words!
The gates of the Kingdom of God are open to those that desire to come in. Jesus invites the rich and the poor. He invites the healthy and the sick. He invites women and men. He invites those of all colors and nationalities. Many will be too busy, or will say they will come and simply won’t. It appears that the banquet will not wait. The work of the Kingdom is too important to wait for the unrepentant, or for those who never really embraced Jesus in the first place. But to those who humble themselves and follow, the doors are flung open wide. All may enter, that desire to come in. (Don’t kid yourself, not all desire to do so.)
How does your calendar look? Do you have time for Jesus? If he beckons you to come, will you go, or will you perhaps say you will, only to turn away. Will you get to the gates of the Kingdom, only to be dismayed by seeing “those people” inside? Are you willing to hang out in the honored company of tax collectors and prostitutes? Today, will you pray that God will give you eyes to see and ears to hear His Kingdom? Though we await its consumption, and certainly all that will happen when we die, Jesus tells us that in his ministry the Kingdom of God has drawn near. There are pockets of the Kingdom all around; places where the Gospel of God’s grace, love, and justice are breaking through, chasing off all evil and darkness. Will you look upon such places? Will you enter them? Even if they don’t look like what you expected? Even if they’re filled with “those people?” What if entering, and following God’s will for you, looks more like downward mobility than upward mobility, success, and worldly achievement? Will you go? If you don’t, someone else will. Today, pray that you will. Pray that God will help you to reprioritize, and to learn to see and hear differently, so that you won’t miss out on God’s Kingdom.