September 27, 2020
St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Ezekiel 18, 25-28 + Psalm 25 + Philippians 2, 1-11 + Matthew 21, 28-32
Jesus has just entered Jerusalem with great excitement, and with no other authority than the Truth, he cleared out the Temple which, I’ve always thought was a symbolic way of demanding that we clear out our lives tangled up in commercialism, competition and consumerism forgetting that we are a Temple, the dwelling place of God. Those chief priests and elders realize now that they have no way of dealing with this troublesome Rabbi, and with that, Jesus tells this story of the two sons in the presence of those chief priests and elders to trouble their consciences. He speaks today, in this place, to trouble us and our conscience.
There is something about this parable that ought to make all of us squirm a little, because we can recognize ourselves in both of these “sons.” We have all promised to do things big and small with the best of intentions, and then, we just don’t follow through. At the same time, we’ve all said “no” to many requests, and later had second thoughts or regrets changing our minds. There is no way to think that this parable is about “them”. Jesus is speaking here, live and in person with this living Gospel.
There is something yet troubling with this parable especially so in a culture in which honor and shame are so significant. Saying “no” to a parent would have been a great insult and very disobedient causing great shame. While the second son gets an honorable approval rating by saying “yes” thereby preserving honor and avoiding shame, but look at what happens. Which is better, a son that does nothing but look good, or a son who looks bad and does good? When Jesus puts this question back on the chief priests and elders who are all about looking good, he sets the hook like a fisherman, and he drags them into the light of truth.
But, the parable today is not about them. It’s about us, and it’s about repentance which is what John the Baptist called for and what Jesus still expects. We are all a people who like to look good, a people who have made a lot of promises, because promises are a lot easier than action. What Jesus seems to prefer are people of shame, like tax gathers and sinners. He prefers them because even though they say “no” often doing wrong in their shame, there is evidence by their response to him that conversion and repentance are happening. There is good news here for us if we let this Gospel trouble our conscience enough to bring us to action. Notice that when Jesus describes that procession into the Kingdom, he does not exclude those chief priests and elders. The door will always be left open for anyone who repents. The Kingdom is to be inclusive. The hope remains then, that all of us who are so imperfect, both a “yes and a no” community we are a people for whom not only one but many changes of heart and conversion to the Father’s will are possibly and necessary.
What ultimately counts, my friends, are not the promises we make, but the actions we take. God is Good!