Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not, 'but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, 'but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”
Today’s Gospel continues last week’s theme that those who expect to be last will be first and vice versa.
Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and elders – those who were certain they would be first in line to get into the kingdom. Jesus overturns their expectations and tells them the tax collectors – the hated accomplices of the Roman occupiers - and the prostitutes, would get in first! We’re ok with the poor, the meek and the sick getting in ahead of the rich, the arrogant and the healthy, but it requires great deal of mental adjustment to believe the immoral will get in ahead of the moral. But, of course, this is the message of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son was demonstrably the less moral of the two brothers, and yet he was singled out for most of God’s attention. Last week, there was no question the vineyard workers who started at the break of dawn were the moral superiors of those who started five minutes before the work was over, and yet they all got the same wage. The elder brother and the harder workers objected, but the God figure always answers the same way - He is doing us no harm by doling out His attention equally.
We inevitably look for the moral lesson and we will find it whether it is there or not. Th parable of the vineyard workers is most often interpreted as a warning that you must repent before the final whistle blows or face punishment. Today's story is often interpreted as a warning to have a correct belief system or face punishment. But we cannot be commanded or threatened to genuinely believe something we are not otherwise inclined to believe. What distinguished the tax collectors and prostitutes from the priests was that they believed John (not believed in John) and were thus open to the comfort found there.