Summary: We need to be more like the disciple Andrew, who, while he didn't write any of the books in the Bible, led people to Jesus - people like Simon Peter and the boy in the parable of the loaves and fish. Following Jesus is the source of our power to change.
An honest man was being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the traffic light turned yellow just in front of him. The man did the right thing stopping at the crosswalk even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman hit the roof - and the horn - screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection.
As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands in the air. He took her to the police station where she was searched, finger printed, photographed and placed in a holding cell.
After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects. He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."
There is an interesting parallel between this story and the parable of the two sons in this morning's Gospel reading, and this parallel can best be understood by discussing some of the events leading up to the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. Shortly before this confrontation, Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as mentioned in Matthew 21:1-17. Jesus entered the temple and-to paraphrase a popular saying - "upset the apple cart". In other words, he challenged the status quo by driving out the livestock and money changers.
Needless to say, the religious leaders were not happy. After all, they had a good thing going, and Jesus ruined it. They were running a very lucrative business in the temple. You see, in order for people to make sacrifices in the temple, they had to sacrifice an animal that was unblemished as determined by the temple examiners. If the examiners decided that the animal had blemishes, it was unacceptable and people had to buy unblemished animals at the temple...and often at inflated prices. To make matters worse, people could not use regular currency in the temple. They had to use official Jewish currency, and the money-changers charged interest rates of about 25 percent.
The religious leaders mistook their self-righteous attitudes for true belief. They were more concerned with themselves, their own salvation and determining who was and was not saved instead of helping the lost come into God's presence. The rabbis were now losing money, and so they decided to confront him and challenge his authority. They tried to discredit Jesus and show the people that he did not have authority. They did not question his miracles or his supernatural abilities. They just questioned the source.
Jesus might not have had official authority, but he did have the one authority that the religious leaders did not - namely, the authority and power of God. The religious leaders had used their religion to keep themselves away from God. They had their traditions and rules, and therefore they had no need for God. We are often the same way. We mistake our actions, traditions and rules for true faith in Christ. We're great when we're hanging around the church on Sundays, but we have trouble making something of our Christian lives where we live, work and play.
Jesus used the parable of the two sons to tell the religious leaders that the folks on the bottom end of society had nothing except God. They might have said "no" to God in the past, but they said "yes" right now - it was not too late. On the other hand, the rabbis had once said "yes", but had never let God into their lives. The rabbis assumed, rather arrogantly, that they had a good chance of salvation. Jesus says that those who don't profess faith but live it as if they did have a better shot at salvation than those who profess faith but don't act. In other words, it is like the old saying, "Actions speak louder than words".
Jesus is trying to lead the religious to admit that talking is not always the same thing as doing. He emphasizes the messages of the prophets-messages of hope, thinking better and repentance. He points out that this can be more likely in some very unlikely people - people like the prostitutes and financiers he referred to in the Gospel reading. The religious leaders, on the other hand, thought that they had no need for forgiveness because of their struggle to reach their favoured status and keep it. They had little or no understanding of the love in forgiveness...perhaps because love had ceased to exist in the world they made and maintained with regulations.