I suppose that’s true, but there is a third, an unspoken but better image in which the son who would have immediately said “Yes” to his Father and acted on his “Yes.” Today, both the First Reading (Ezekiel 18:25-28) and the Gospel (Matthew 21:28-32) are very short, which allows us to quickly zero in on the heart of the teachings. It is really quite simple: there are indeed two conditions for entering the Kingdom of God. One of these is giving up sinful ways. The second condition is believing the words of Jesus, and then acting accordingly.
In both cases, or conditions, the emphasis is on the reaction of the listener to the word of God. We cannot simply listen, and then only comment that “it was a nice teaching.” We’re called to do more that “talk” about it. We’re called to follow the advice of Jesus fully and with a happy attitude of heart.
Jesus appointed successors to carry on his message. These Apostles, in turn, appointed Bishops to continue the Tradition of teaching the truth. If we stubbornly refuse to follow the teachings of these successors to the apostles, then we become like the scribes and Pharisees – hard of heart, stubborn, unwilling to act on the truth passed on by the Church.
We need to remember that there is something “special” at stake here – the prize is eternal life. If we do not believe the teachings of the Church AND act on that truth, then we are not doing the Father’s will; and that will block our entrance into heaven. The readings are short, simple, and easy to understand. Before choosing to disobey a teaching of the Church, one should reflect on what it will cost based on today’s readings.
Once again, we are today given another chance to respond to God’s invitation to enter his kingdom. It requires a radical choice, and also may require extreme action in our way of living. But we must not test God’s patience, nor presume his mercy – hoping to obtain forgiveness without conversion. Not everyone who cries “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom.
Also see articles #546, and #2092 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.