On this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Times, Year A, the gospel reading (Matthew 21:28-32) tells the parable of a father and his two sons; a story about our relationship with God, our Father. In the parable, the father had asked his sons to help him out with work in his vineyard. The first son responded with an outright “No” but later changed his mind and did his father’s bidding. The second son responded with an outright “Yes” but failed to follow through with his obedient words. Christ then asked the Pharisees, “Which of these sons did his father’s will?” to which they answered, “The first,” and Christ then said, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” because of their change of heart but you have refused to change.
Christ's technique in this parable is much like the one that Nathan, the prophet, used when he confronted King David about his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:1-12)—tell a story and then ask the listener to answer a question. In choosing an answer, the listener passes a judgment on him or herself. The Pharisees had answered right—that it was the son who had a change of heart; who went from rebellion to obedience that did his father’s will. By their answer, the Pharisees had acknowledge that repentance is the only path to salvation; acknowledging one’s sins and making a commitment to change course. When it comes to the first son, we might wonder what his heart was full of that made him say an outright “No” to his father, in the first instance. Could it have been pride, arrogance, the spirit of disobedience, desire to have his way against his father’s will, “you can’t tell me what to do” attitude, “I am now 18 years old, and I can do as I want” mentality, etc. Could it have been his ego? Remember that the word “Ego” is also an acronym, meaning “Edging God out.” The good news here, though, is that he came to his senses and decided to bring God back into the center stage of his life, something we are all called to do again and again. So, what is it in my life that is causing me to be disobedient to God’s word”? What is keeping me from having a good and honest relationship with God? What am I doing that is edging God out of the center stage in my life?
The second son was a whole different story. He said “Yes sir”, I will go but he never went. He simply gave a lip service but not life service to his father. He knew to talk the talk but not walk the walk. He was full of promises but no fruits. This is what the bible refers to as self-righteousness and hypocrisy, which creates a huge image gap between who we are and who we ought to be. We might wonder what he became full of that caused him to moved from obedience to gross disobedience. Could he had forgotten, or did his friends dissuade him, or did he judge something to be more important than obedience to his father? Who knows, but his situation only reminds me of the words of Scripture, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me.” My friends, merely saying the right words does not ensure salvation. Authentic discipleship requires active obedience to God’s word. As Scripture says, “Blessed is the one who hears the word of God and does what it commands.” We need to bear fruits. May the good Lord grant us the grace, not just to be listeners but active doers of His word, Amen