“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.” (V.32)
This, of course, would have been offensive to Jesus’ hearers, for he was speaking to the religious leaders of his day. This story of The Two Sons is about entry into the Kingdom of God, something dear to these same religious leaders. The son who dishonoured his father by openly refusing to do his will represents sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus speaks of. His change of mind Jesus likens to these same sinners listening to John the Baptist’s call to repent and changing their ways, changing their initial ‘No’ into a ‘Yes.’ Thus do they come into the Kingdom. Being a sinner does not exclude a person from the Kingdom; there’s hope for all of us!
The accusation that Jesus has against the religious leader is that they do not practice what they preach. Thus, in this parable, they are like the son who says, ‘Yes,’ but does nothing about doing as his father asked; they know what God wants, but they do not do it, and so they do not enter the Kingdom. Jesus is not saying that they cannot enter the Kingdom. The way into it is the same as for the sinners they so despise: they must repent and change their ways; they must become doers of the Law, and not just hearers of it, as St Paul has it in Romans 2:13. As the Jesus put it earlier in this Gospel: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Our faith has a practical aspect to it: We must walk the talk.