Jesus was killed for a reason. He often said shocking things to the crowds of people that did anything but endear many of them to him. Today’s Gospel lesson has our Lord putting the religious leaders on their spiritual heels with a parable packed with a punchline: “You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will!” Now, there’s a recipe for conflict! But the sobering truth of Christianity is that in Christ’s upside-down kingdom the spiritual insiders are really on the outside and the spiritual outsiders are the ones who will receive God’s promises.
Like many portions of Scripture, this lesson is both a warning and an encouragement. It is a warning to all the spiritually serious and uptight among us about being obsessed with correctness, checking off right beliefs on our spiritual checklists, and placing mercy and obedience as of only secondary importance. But it is an encouragement to all of us moral failures with the wonderful possibilities of a changed life full of grace and love.
Talk is cheap. Paying lip service to God, and not loving submission to Jesus, is hollow and means nothing. What matters most, because we are all in need of grace, is repentance and a willingness to let God transform us into the likeness of Christ. Anything less will result in the door of God’s kingdom being shut in our face. Take several minutes to read over the parable two or three times, and be honest about how you fit into the story. Christ’s kingdom parables are not just for other people; they are for us all. For, to change our minds and believe is the true work of God in us.
Lord Jesus, you pry with merciful intensity into my life. Do your faithful work of convicting me of sin, and change me into a servant fit for the kingdom of God. Amen.