The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time October 1, 2017
Ezekiel 18, 25-28 + Psalm 25 + Philippians 2, 1-11 + Matthew 21, 28-32
St Joseph Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma
The entry into Jerusalem has taken place. Jesus has cleansed the Temple resulting in a serious challenge to his authority by those in charge. He responds by raising the issue of John’s Baptism promising to answer them if they answer his question about the source of John’s authority. They talk about this among themselves, and then tell him that they do not know. So, he refuses to answer their question about his authority, but then poses three parables which indirectly do answer their question. We get the first of the three today, and the others over next two Sundays.
From our cultural perspective, the choice between these two children is easy. We would say that the one who said “no” but in the end, did what asked is the better. But, from the cultural perspective of Jesus, it is not so obvious and simple. Both children fall short. At that time and place, with honor so highly prized, saying “no” to the request of the father is outrageous. It could have resulted in banishment on the spot. Publically humiliating one’s father was unheard of and totally unacceptable. There is here a great dilemma. When given a choice between being publicly honored and privately shamed or publicly shamed and privately honored, the honorable choice is for the public saving of face. So, the child who said, “yes” is really the better of the two. In other words, look good no matter what! This is what is being called into question with this parable.
When applied to the Pharisees, we get the idea. They look good, but looking good is all that is good about them. However, we are not here to talk about or think about the Pharisees. This Gospel is not written for the Pharisees. It is written for you and me, and when we proclaim it in this assembly, Jesus speaks now and asks us to look at ourselves and measure whether we prefer to look or to do good; whether we are content to say pious things and talk about faith, or whether or not we have ever really “changed our minds” and put the talk into action. There is a little more to being a faithful disciple than just saying prayers, keeping the rules, and going to church. I heard a rabbi quoted recently who said that prayer does not save us. It just makes us worthy of salvation. Signs of holiness are not limited to prayers.
My friends, most of us in here today have said, “Yes”, but when we peel away what is superficial, none of us have really totally embraced the Father’s will. If we had, there would be a lot less poverty and greater justice in this world. There may be some among us who have in the past said, “no” but by the power of the saving spirit of grace have changed their minds. To those who have said “yes” but done little about it, there is still time. Because, in the parable Jesus never says they will not be welcome, it simply says that others will get there first. Neither of the children in this parable had it all together, but the one humble enough to change his mind and change his ways is closer to the father. What we can take away from this Gospel today is simply the assurance that what ultimately counts is not the promises we make but the actions we take. Getting to the two into agreement is the work of a faithful disciple.