“Merciful God, you sent your prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (UMC Book of Worship)
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.
The Great Tradition
“It is surprising that the publicans and sinners believed in Christ even before the priests, who were too arrogant. To work in the vineyard is to do justice. Lessons drawn from the parable include the point that it is better to do the righteousness of God without promising to do so than it is to promise and then renege. The son who first refused to work but afterward repented did the will of the father. The son who said he would go but did not go is reproved. Even after the publicans and harlots had believed, the Jewish leaders had not believed.” (Hilary of Poitiers)
Prayer of Confession
“Eternal God, we your Church, who should be instruments of your victory, confess that we have often put barriers in your way. Where we should be a light to the world, we participate in the sin around us. Forgive us, we pray, and free us to be people prepared for your coming, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (H. Burnham Kirkland)
Picture the temple courts with people engaged in various activities, with Jesus teaching and healing, and the religious leaders challenging his authority.
As we look at this passage, we see a clear divide between the religious leaders’ self-assuredness and the humble repentance of the tax collectors and prostitutes. The religious leaders were so consumed by their own self-righteousness that they failed to recognize God’s authority in Jesus. In contrast, those who had lived sinful lives saw their need for a Savior and welcomed his authority with open hearts.
- Embrace God’s Authority: The religious leaders questioned Jesus’ authority, but we must recognize and embrace his divine authority and lordship in our lives. Like the first son in the parable, it’s better to humbly obey God without making empty promises than to make extravagant commitments and not follow through.
- Repentance Leads to Transformation: The tax collectors and prostitutes repented and believed in Jesus, demonstrating that genuine repentance leads to transformation. This Advent, let’s reflect on areas of our lives where we need to turn from self-reliance to dependence on Christ.
- Humility Opens the Door to God’s Kingdom: Just as the humble and repentant found their place in God’s kingdom, our humility and recognition of our need for a Savior allow us to enter into the fullness of God’s grace and love. As we prepare for Christ’s coming, let’s shed our self-righteousness and welcome his authority with open hearts.
- Have you turned from trusting in yourself and your ability to live a righteous life to trusting in Jesus and living under his authority and power? Reflect on the journey of your faith and obedience.
- If you have made this “Kingdom-turn” of repentance, share the story of your journey with a friend. What was it like making that change? Was it painful? Was it worth it? Explain the process and some of the lessons you learned along the way.
- If you haven’t made that change yet, share with a friend what the obstacles are for you to make that change. Perhaps your friend can help you work through some of those difficulties. Remember that God is patient, and even desiring to want change is pleasing to him. He will guide you on the right path.
- This Advent season, consider reaching out to someone who may feel distant from God due to their past mistakes. Share the message of hope and transformation through Christ. Tell them about your journey with Christ and how he has worked in your life.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the lesson from your Word today. Help us to embrace your authority and turn from our self-righteousness. May we always be open to your sanctifying grace and remain humble in our walk with you. As we prepare for Christ’s coming during this Advent season, may our hearts be open and receptive to your love. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.