“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. Matthew 21:27-32
I can see two issues being addressed in today’s reading: lip service and the stubborn refusal to believe; both of which God had to correct in the Hebrew people many a time in the Old Testament. What He did before through the prophets, He did face-to-face in this passage. Unfortunately, the result was the same in both cases (see Matthew 21:33-38). Maybe we can do better by identifying the problems and using this information as a corrective to our own lives, if needed.
As you all know, in our current age “lip service” normally refers to a person who tells another that they will do something, even though they have no intention of doing it. It’s mostly used as a method of appeasement. I’ll be quite honest with you, I would have said the second son in the Parable above was just paying his father lip service and left it at that. As I was meditating on today’s reading Lord Jesus indicated there was fuller sense of the term “lip service.” It’s the sense that not only our hands, but also our lips are meant to be used in serving God.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Hebrews 13:15
In Building up of the kingdom of God:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 2 Timothy 4:1-2
In acting as an Intermediary:
For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. Malachi 2:7
In the Salvation of Souls:
But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. Romans 10:8-10
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? Romans 10:13-14
As we can see lip service is serious business. Firstly, it’s a great honor that God has bestowed on man in allowing him a share in this great work. Secondly, God depends on us to do our part. Using the parable in the reading as an example, what happens when the second son says yes, but doesn’t carry out the work? The work doesn’t get done because the father thinking the son is going to do the work isn’t going to make arrangements for another to do the job. To help make it more real try to remember to a time when one of your plans went awry because someone promised to do something, but then didn’t? I bet it wasn’t a pleasant memory. When God can’t depend on us to follow up on our amens, then we do a disservice to both God and man (both of which are in Lord Jesus). The problem with the Pharisees wasn’t just their pride, it was a failure of duty. A duty which now falls to us.
The Stubborn Refusal to Believe
But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. Zechariah 7:11
Its fine not to believe when you don’t have enough evidence, but when there is an abundance of evidence and one still chooses not to believe, then that is simply a stubborn refusal to believe. The Pharisees knew John was righteous and were witness to how many people he was turning back to God and yet they still refused to believe. That was just plain stubbornness, which is without excuse. It was this stubborn refusal to believe that kept them from fulfilling their duty.
It’s for these reasons that the tax collectors and prostitutes are worthier of the kingdom. They didn’t lie and take a job and then fail to perform it letting down both God and man. They just said no from the outset and went about their business. But when they were made aware of their incorrect behavior they repented and got to work. Hence, these are the one who built up the kingdom of God; but the ones whose job it was originally refused to believe they needed repentance and failed in their service to God (Luke 7:30).
May we all build up the kingdom of God! God bless!
The beautiful image was supplied by Roberta Borge @Unsplash