Matthew 21 26-32
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people. “Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’
“The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.
“The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went.
“Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” They said, “The first.”
Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.
Neither son in this parable is a paragon of virtue. Even those who are “entering the kingdom of God” started off by balking at the Lord’s instructions. Contrast this with the ministry of Jesus, who does the Father’s will at every point, even when He knows the suffering He will have to endure for it. In Gethsemane, Jesus prays that the cup pass from His lips — but only if that is the will of the Father. He submits entirely to the Father’s will, not in a grumbling or half-hearted manner but fully committed to it. Jesus is neither of the sons in this parable.
However, that is part of the hopeful message Jesus gives us in this parable — that salvation is not for the perfect, but for the truly repentant. Redemption is still available for those who refuse the call of the Lord at first. Those who followed Jesus had taken a different path as a result of Jesus’ ministry. These prostitutes and tax collectors to whom Jesus referred had repented of their sin and come back into union with the will of the Father. They acknowledged their status as sinners and resolved to sin no more. Instead of arrogantly putting their own will and agenda to the forefront, they obeyed the will of the Father through Jesus. Thus, they had moved farther on the path of salvation — even if, as Jesus implies in the parable, they weren’t necessarily enthusiastic about it at first and may still have doubts or misgivings.