a 28 But what think ye? [By these words Jesus put them on notice that he was about to propound something which would require an answer, and therefore demanding the strictest attention.] A man had two sons [the two sons stand for the Jewish rulers and the Jewish common people]; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to-day in the vineyard.
29 And he answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented himself, and went. [The common people made no special pretension to religious excellence, and the rulers regarded them as very careless about the will or law of their Father, God, and made disparaging contrasts between their own conduct and that of the people ( John 7:48 John 7:49 ). But this very same common people repented and did the will of God when they heard the preaching of John the Baptist-- Matthew 3:5 Matthew 3:6 .]
30 And he came to the second [the rulers], and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. [The rulers, though all the while professing to be very zealous for the will of God, utterly refused to enter the kingdom or to work therein as God bade them to by the voice of John the Baptist-- Matthew 3:7-9 .]
31 Which of the two did the will of his father? They say, The first. [They gave the true answer and did not perceive that in so doing they confirmed a parable which condemned themselves.] Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots [the very worst representatives of the common people] go into the kingdom of God before you. [Rather than you.]
32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness [The term "righteousness," as Plumptre observes, seems used in a half-technical sense, as expecting the aspect of righteousness which the Pharisees themselves recognized ( Matthew 6:1 ), and which includes, as its three great elements, the almsgiving, fasting, and prayer that were so conspicuous both in the life and the teaching of the Baptist. Surely they could have presented its demands in a form more acceptable to the Jewish rulers], and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him. [The parable of this subdivision is the outgrowth of the preceding subdivision. These rulers had demanded that Jesus show his authority for his assumption of right as teacher, prophet, etc. The parable is an indirect response to this demand, as if Jesus said, "It is in vain for me to tell you that I act under the authority of the Father, for despite all your great profession to the contrary, you really and actually, in your persistent rejection of another (the Baptist), who also acted under it, repudiate utterly his authority; though in so doing you see yourselves condemned by the conduct of even the publicans and harlots, who have felt the force of the Father's authority, and have repentantly obeyed it." The situation must have given great force to the parable; for the rulers in their private conversation had just admitted to each other that the people recognized and obeyed the divine authority of John, while they, the rulers, rejected it.]