Though the religious elites refused to honestly answer Jesus’ question about John’s baptism, Jesus purges their true answer here. The parable fit perfectly into the question Jesus had just asked. It was the social outcasts and morally degenerate who came out to see and receive the good news from John, not the religious elites. Those who came to John were like the first son who first refused to work for the Father and then changed their minds and went. But the elites were the second son. They were those who immediately said they would go and then didn’t go to do their Father’s desire.
It is ironic that the chief priests and elders understood the parable enough to answer correctly. It was the first son who ultimately did what the Father wanted. But seeing Jesus reasoning, they did not see. Hearing the parable, they did not understand it. For to truly see and hear would have meant that the Pharisees would have had to accept the parables’ outcome. It would have meant that the Pharisees would have had to admit that they had set aside the requirements of the Law in order to justify their self-righteous disdain for those whose did not even pretend to keep it.
But it’s not enough to just talk about things like the justice and mercy of God. God did not speak about these things to tingle our minds. These are not theological abstractions to recite later. These are things for us to do. John’s message came straight from the heart of the Law that came out from the mouth of God. John didn’t advocate another set of laws and wasn’t’ accused of subverting it in his teaching. John was hated for preaching the heart of the Law to those the elites had condemned. He was hated for insisting that the chief priests and elders of the law were no better off than the tax collector and prostitutes themselves. And these tax collectors and prostitutes, those the Pharisees had already passed God’s judgment upon, were those who were receiving John’s baptism and entering the Kingdom of God before these so-called keepers and defenders of the Law. They entered by the repentance and faith they willing embraced from the hands of God, and that was purchased for them by the death of Jesus Christ.