23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
What a double whammy for the chief priests and elders! They are highly respected people in their community. They expect to get answers when they ask questions, especially of someone teaching in the temple courts! Yet Jesus recognises the falseness of their question and their answer. This discourse shows that the leaders were not genuinely enquiring, but were trying to trap Jesus and find a way to oust him (or worse). Jesus catches them in their own game and refuses to answer unless they give an honest answer to his question too. His apparent lack of respect towards them would have angered and humiliated them.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there! He uses a parable to demonstrate that listening to him, understanding that we are all sinners, and repenting get us into the kingdom of God, not our position in society. In fact, those of a higher status, like the chief priests, find it more difficult to humble themselves and believe. When he tells them that tax collectors and prostitutes – the lowest in society – would be more likely to enter the kingdom of heaven than they were, their humiliation is complete.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Who I am, how important my job is, how nice my home is, what my cultural background is, how much respect I have garnered from society – none of these things matter. All that matters is accepting that I am a sinner and falling on Jesus’ righteousness and mercy for my salvation. That fact not only opens the door for everyone to come to Jesus, but it also creates a wonderful equality in the family of God.
Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for making a way for all of us to enter the kingdom of God. I pray for the body of Christ worldwide to understand and celebrate that there is no hierarchy among us. Help us to reach out to everyone with your truth. Amen
Written by Megan Cornell