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.” “I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?
From outward appearances, everyone thought they knew which of his girls was the real handful. The older one was always very pleasant when she was around people. She hung on dad’s every word, and she seemed pretty helpful. The younger one was defiant to the bone, and her favorite word was no. She was the one who would fight everything with kicking and screaming, a real nightmare of a child. Yet, dad saw a different picture of his girls at home. Yes, the older one was kind on the surface, but her obedient appearance rarely manifested into her actually doing what dad asked. The younger one always put up a fight at first, but she usually relented in time, eventually doing what she was told and pleasing dad.
Jesus is making a distinction here between word and deed, and between now and then. He is telling the chief priests and elders why they are the disobedient children while the tax collectors and prostitutes will actually inherit the kingdom of God. The chief priests and elders seemed like they were following God, but their motives were really their own. They spoke a good game, but their hearts defied the very Lord they professed to follow. When they were presented with the truth, it did not change them. They turned their noses to it. Those viewed as sinners, however, took hold of the truth and repented. They accepted the real picture of who they were, and they let themselves be transformed. They changed from sinners to saints.
Some will present themselves as saints, but they have yet to experience genuine change. Some of them even will refuse the truth yet, for whatever reason, play the game of presenting themselves as holy. Trust that the Lord will see through the subterfuge. He counts obedience not by outward appearances but by true work. If we say yes and amen in the presence of others, but we reject the truth in our hearts and walk as we desire, then the kingdom will not await us. Sometimes we put up a fight before we relent and obey, but the important thing is to obey. Father, bring us to a place of true obedience, that we would not fight along the way but that we would submit to You at every step and allow ourselves to change.