"What do you think? A man had two sons. Turning to the first he said: Son, go to work in the vineyard today. And he replied: I don't feel like it. But then, repenting, he went. Turning to the second, he told him the same. And he answered: Yes, sir. But he didn't go. Which of the two has fulfilled the will of the father? "They say: "The first". And Jesus said to them: "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes go ahead in the kingdom of God, who lived in justice, and did not believe him; publicans and prostitutes, on the other hand, believed him. You, on the contrary, have seen these things, but then you have not even repented so as to believe them".
In this other passage, reported by Mark in his Gospel, Jesus continues the dialogue with the high priests who had asked him with what authority he dared to expose His statements, in an attempt to oppose him and discredit him while he was teaching in the Temple. Previously Jesus had put them in difficulty asking them about the Baptism of John; now, taking up the subject again, he returns to the same subject: "John came to you, who lived in justice, and did not believe him; the publicans and the prostitutes, on the other hand, believed him".
The two sons of the parable are cited as a symbol of these two positions; the second son represents the Pharisees, whom Jesus had already described as "a people [who] honors me with their lips but his heart is far from me" (Mt 7,6). And what does this child do? To the invitation of his father to go to work in the vineyard, he says yes but then he does not go: it is the son who apparently obeys the command, that is to say the Law, but he does not do what his father asks him. In exposing his reflections, however, Jesus goes further, because he does not ask which of the two has observed the law, but who has fulfilled his father's will: the difficulty of the chief priests and the elders of the people was to understand and accept that certainty to do God's will did not come simply from observance of the law.
Jesus says that this is not the obedience asked of the people, but it is understanding the will of God and putting it into action. This will was unexpectedly fulfilled by the "first son" who, while not responding at first, then repents, goes and does that will which he understood to have been dictated by his father, that is, by him who does nothing and says nothing. children if not for their own good.
The attitude between the two sons is surprising, also because the first son represents publicans and prostitutes, whom Jesus says will precede the Pharisees and high priests in the Kingdom of God! The message of Jesus is not to be understood as a stimulus to behave like them, because sin is never rewarded, but refers to the fact that publicans, prostitutes and all the sinners that they represent, repenting, have understood their mistakes and change radically their life, going back to do the will of the father; and so they will pass on to many others in the kingdom of God.
Jesus himself reveals it when he says: "John has come to you, who lived in righteousness, and you have not believed him; the tax collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand, have believed him", that is they have converted and, as Paul says, "now, set free from sin and become servants of God, gather the fruit that brings you to sanctification and as an end you have eternal life".
. On these matters, Jesus had exposed himself on more than one occasion to the criticisms of Pharisees and high priests: he let prostitutes and sinners get close to Him, sat at table with them and with many publicans; Seeing this, the Pharisees said to his disciples: "Why does your master eat together with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus himself replied: "It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. In fact, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners".
But it is not He who goes to look for sinners, on the contrary it is they who come to Jesus, because they have understood that in Him there is that God they feel they need. The same dynamic that we find in this parable can be traced back to that of the "prodigal son": there too is the son who repents and returns to the Father's house. If it is true that we can give in to temptation, to weaknesses, represented here by publicans and prostitutes represented by the "first son", Jesus encourages us not to be discouraged, to continue to seek the truth, so that we can return, put ourselves back on the path of God researching it like that repentant son did, and backing up. Of course, our weakness will always accompany us, at least as a temptation, because it is part of our human life; however we can and must defeat it, establishing with Jesus a relationship of full trust, personal and profound faith.
Jesus in this parable tells us that those who are considered offenders of the Law and condemned for this, then obeyed God and walked the path of justice; while those who consider themselves obedient to the Law of God are those who disobeyed God. The cause of this harsh judgment of Jesus lies in the fact that the priests and elders of the people had not believed that John the Baptist had come from God Instead, the publicans and prostitutes, who were despised as sinners and unclean, had believed and had followed him, after having deeply repented.
In them Jesus found the active presence of God, which he does not find in the priests and the people who, despite having Him and His works before their eyes, insist on not understanding, not believing, not changing direction to return to the Father. "O stubborn and pagan people in the heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit; like your fathers, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Just, of which you have now become traitors and killers, you who received the law at the hands of the angels and did not observe it ". When they heard these things, they shuddered in their hearts and ground their teeth against him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, fixing his eyes to heaven, saw the glory of God and Jesus who was on his right and said: "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God". (Acts 7.51-56).