Matthew 21: 28 – 32
“Actions speak louder than words.” This old saying is one that most of us have experienced some time or other. Numerous times when looking for volunteers to help on various projects I was impressed with the number of people who said that that they would be there to help, only to find myself disappointed when only a few actually turned out for the project. Not everyone who expresses a desire to help, sometimes very enthusiastically, can be counted on to show up. “Actions speak louder than words,” is a saying that we all understand and it sums up the message of our Gospel.
In the Parable of the Two Sons It seems that Jesus is telling the chief priests and elders that they are like the son who says he is going to do things God’s way, but then does not do what God asks him. They fail to believe the message of John the Baptist and even when others began to listen to John and repent, the chief priests and elders did not change their minds. The chief priests and elders are the ones who say “yes” to whatever God asks of them. And their yes is made with much bravado and flair, but the way they live their lives and treat the people of Israel does not reflect their “yes.” They have the reputation for living off the backs of the people, of enforcing the strictest interpretation of the law for others while finding loopholes for themselves. Jesus makes it clear that the chief priests and elders are like the son who says yes, but does not show up to do the work.
What probably angered the chief priests and elders most about what Jesus said is that, while they were not doing God’s work, the tax collectors and prostitutes were praised because they were being moved to repentance. Even though they might have said “no” to God and chose lifestyles and professions contrary to the law of God, now they were coming around and saying “yes” by their actions. So in telling this parable Jesus is saying that the tax collectors and prostitutes are the heroes because they are actually turning their lives around to follow Jesus, while the chief priests and elders are the villains who speak loudly of God, but their observance of God’s law cannot be seen or heard.
We can easily join in the chorus of those who look at the chief priests and elders and criticize, if not condemn them, while at the same time singing the praises of the tax collectors and prostitutes for the conversion that was taking place within them. But the more meaningful response we can have to this Gospel is to look deep within ourselves and ask the question, “Where am I in this Parable?” Am I the son who says “yes” but then does not follow through? Or am I the Son who says “No” and has a change of heart and does do what is asked of him? Or maybe I am the son who is not mentioned who says “yes” and actually follows through in what the Father asked. We are all one of these three. Which one are you?
Take time to look at how you respond to the Lord. When it comes to fidelity in prayer, awareness of the needs of family and friends, and attentiveness to the cries of the poor and disenfranchised, do I say “yes” and actually follow through with it? Which son am I most like? Do my actions speak louder than words in the way I want them to?
Fr. Killian Loch, O.S.B.