26th Sunday in Ordinary
A Homily - A Cycle - 2004-2005
First Reading - Ezekiel 18:25-28
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading - Philippians 2:1-11 or 2:1-5
Gospel - Matthew 21:28-32
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today,' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.
Today's parable of the two sons should remind us of another parable that featured two sons - the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Fathers of the Church often refer to the parable that we just heard as the "Cliff Notes" version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the two sons reveal very important facts about the condition of the human person after original sin and the possibility of conversion from sin and death to virtue and life. This, in turn, should explain why Jesus said that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God before the chief priests and elders, the Jewish religious leaders often thought to be "shoe-in's" to heaven. Finally, the parable should lead us to consider the example of the Lord Jesus and His life of obedience as the great answer to the rebellion of the two sons in the parable.
St. Augustine once wrote that the two sons demonstrate for us the human condition after the Fall of Adam and Eve. There is an internal rebellion that wells up within each of them to reject the Father's command. We have no reason to believe that the Father's command was illicit or that it commanded immoral behavior, thus causing its rejection. We have no reason to believe that the Father had wronged his sons, thus causing them to reject Him. Whether we consider the son who said "no" and later obeyed or the son who said "yes" and then later changed his mind, we know that these two sons somehow saw the Father's command as a restriction on their freedom and their autonomy. This is so often the case of how we can view our Lord and His Church's teachings - limits on our unfettered freedom that tends to do whatever WE want without real regard for what God commands.
And yet, the son who says "no" but later changes his mind proves that conversion and change is very much possible. Thank God! The sudden change of heart shows us that no one is beyond conversion and that God's grace can overcome any hardness of heart. For this reason, we should never think of anyone as "hopeless." If the human person wants to change, God will always provide the grace to make that happen. Even the desire to change, St. Augustine reminds us, is already itself a grace.
Towards the end of today's Gospel, Jesus warns the religious leaders of the Jews that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God before they were. Why" What does that mean? How could that be possible? After all, tax collectors and prostitutes were considered grade-A sinners. How could such people get into heaven before religious persons? The reason is simple: Jesus warns the chief priests and the elders of the Jews not to become overconfident that either their position in society or their lineage as Jews would serve as a free pass into heaven. The conversion of tax collectors and prostitutes, Christ suggests, was more sincere - more authentic. These conversions were based in humble recognition of sinfulness and a deep-seeded desire to repent and make amends. The chief priests and the elders, our Lord suggests, were falling into the sin of presumption since they saw no need for their own conversion. Unlike the religious leaders of the Jews, the tax collectors and prostitutes were learning to become more childlike - totally dependent on God's will and his grace.
Therein lies the great answer to the rebellion of the two sons - Christ's obedience, which serves as the great antidote to disobedience. Christ is the ideal son - the one who says he will obey the Father's command and actually DOES SO. If Christ were to have included a third son in the parable - the ideal son - He would have been describing Himself. In Christ, there is no streak of rebellion. He never views the Father's will as a stricture of His freedom. Rather, He finds freedom and glory in obedience.
This is who you and I are called to imitate - to let our "yes" mean "yes" and to do what we say we'll do. At times, we can set out with great spiritual ambitions, only to find ourselves coming up short. Doing God's will in the day-to-day - learning to be docile and obedient like little children is the key to happiness in this life and in the next. The simplicity of this mission - to do God's will - often gets clouded and complicated when we start putting ourselves in front of what God desires. And so, until we consistently imitate the Lord Jesus and avoid the example of the two rebellious sons, we will find ourselves either fighting God in our hearts or deluding ourselves into thinking that we have no need for continual conversion, much like the Jewish elders and chief priests.
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