AGREEING WITH THE FATHER’S DESIGNS – 1 October 2017 – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32
Fr Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications

The parable of today’s gospel depicts three characters: a father and two sons. At the invitation of his father to go to work in the vineyard, the firstborn zealously and readily answered: Yes, sir,  but then did not go. Why did he not go? Was it because he had more important engagments? No, even when he had said yes, he was not at all in accord with the program of his father. He had only spoken empty words.

His response reminds us of another saying of Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my heavenly Father” (Mt 7:21).

This firstborn evidently represents the Israelites whom Moses had already called “unfaithful children” (Dt 32:5.20). Not all the Israelites, of course, but those who, in words, had committed themselves to the covenant and then had reduced them to external rites, worthless ceremonies, convinced that they are right with the Lord because they offered sacrifices and burnt offerings, prayers. This, at the time of Jesus, was the religion practiced by the priests of the temple and the notables of the people.

Now, the father turns to the second son with the request to go to work in the vineyard and the answer was: “I don’t want to.” But then, overcome with remorse, he goes. The allusion to the hated Gentiles—who are now elevated to the status of children—is explicit. They have not given any formal adherence to the will of the Lord, but they entered first in the kingdom of God.

This finding may lead to the dangerous illusion that these two children are of the prehistoric characters and have nothing to do with us. Christians would be the “third son,” the one who says yes and does the will of the Father. But let’s ask ourselves what impact have our formulas, our statements, our formal stand, our rituals in everyday life (Go to work today in the vineyard!)? Do they put an end to hatred, wars, abuses? While continuing to profess ourselves Christians, do we not easily resign ourselves to a life of compromise?

The third child exists, but we are not that child. Only “the Son of God, Jesus Christ—Paul writes—was not “yes” and “no,” but with him it was simply yes. “In him all the promises of God have come to be a yes” (2 Cor 1:19). He is the one who always said: “Yes, Father, this was your gracious will” (Mt 11:26).

The conclusion of the parable is that “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are ahead of you in the kingdom of God.” “The publicans and the harlots” who know they are far from God do not delude themselves of doing his will. They are conscious of having said no; they do not try to fool themselves by fulfilling the precepts they themselves invented. They do not soothe the conscience with practices that have nothing in common with the true religion. Their awareness of being poor, weak, sinners in need of help, predisposes them to be first in receiving God’s gift.

Which is more important, saying or doing?

May Tam

Today’s parable brings to mind a popular Chinese idiom: “Say one thing but do quite another” (講一套, 做一套). Implied in this saying is that actions take precedence over words. Interesting enough, the Jewish leaders also took the same stance. They commended the first son because he did what was right despite both sons did what was contrary to their words. It was meant to be a reproving parable (one that appeals to the offenders themselves and judges them out of their own mouths) but in this case, apart from the chagrin of the Jewish authorities, it also reveals a common consensus among the general populace—action speaks for itself.

That deed is more important than word can be understood from our Lord Jesus Himself. In His earthly ministry, His words were backed up by His deeds.  Indeed, His last deed (His willful death) was the culmination of all His words. Imagine if Jesus, like the second son, consented to come into this world and accepted His saving mission, but later changed His mind and did not die on the cross, would Christianity still survive amid the many persecutions throughout the centuries, or would it merely become a school of philosophical ideas or humanitarian ideology?

I can think of another similar relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (correct belief/faith versus correct practice/deed). As Christians, how do we identify ourselves? Are we the people of faith (belief) or the people of works (practice)? Are we the people of words or the people of deeds? Should not both our words and deeds match when applying to our daily lives? “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” and “So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom” (James 1:22, 2:12). James adds, “faith without works is dead” (2:14-26).

As true disciples of Christ, let us follow Him both in words and in deeds and to become the kind of people we are called to be.

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