Challenge and Counter-Challenge of Authority, Matthew 21:23-27
This was the start of an interesting drama. The Jewish religious leaders decided to use what they imagined to be a trap that would silence or ensnare Jesus. Jesus was, in their view, an uneducated nobody. They could hardly imagine Him sensing the trap, let alone avoiding it. Jesus turned their trap on them and put them in a multi-lemma: if they said that John was sent by God they would be asked why they didn't obey; if they said that John was speaking for himself they would be in trouble with the common people; if they answered, "We asked first," they would look petty and childish; if they answered, "We don't know," they would lose the people's respect. They chose the latter. It was the least damaging, but it was damaging! And they knew it!
It's almost silly to say this, but don't try to lie to, fool, or "outsmart" God. He. Knows. And as Jesus did in this encounter, God will use our lies and tricks, if we try any, to His purposes. Far better, in our relationship with God, to be honest, open and submitting to His purposes. When it comes to what is best for us, He knows that, too.
My Two Sons - Saying vs. Doing, Matthew 21:28-32
In response to their first attack, Jesus counter-attacked with a series of parables. This time Jesus isn't "just" replying and moving on. Keep in mind that this was all done in the temple, in front of as many people who chose to listen! Jesus responded, and escalated His challenge, by means of several parables. With this first parable, of one son who said he would obey his father but didn't, while the other son said he would not but did, Jesus struck at the religious leaders' hypocrisy. They made the profession that they followed God, but in their lives they did not. Meanwhile, "sinners" (which they really were!) despised by the hypocritical religious leaders would turn from their sin and follow God.
Jesus' thinking here is pretty plain on its face. Jesus is challenging the religious leaders. Specifically, this parable strikes at how the public perceived them, public respect, and as I said above, in a very public place.
The Murderous Tenants, Matthew 21:33-46
The Wedding Feast & Unworthy Invitees, Matthew 22:1-14
In these two parables Jesus showed the real character of the religious leaders: rebellious; murderous; out for personal gain; concerned with their own business rather than God's. Jesus' intent, again, is pretty plain. He confronted the religious leaders with what they are. And did it in front of the ordinary people who looked to them as leaders. He gave them a choice - and it truly was a choice - they could repent, give up their racket, or they could resist Jesus to keep their racket going (though Jesus knew it would end very soon). Sadly, they made the prideful and greedy choice.
In this, Jesus went for the religious leaders' metaphoric jugular. They had bent, spindled, folded and mutilated what should have been service to God and the Jewish people into a very cozy and profitable racket. Jesus hoped that, by rocking their tidy little world, some - people and leaders - would turn to God. Eventually and over time, many did. Jesus knew the pain all this would cost Him; He also knew that the reward was far greater.