Matthew 21: 28 -32
This passage begins with Jesus asking the chief priests an elders a seemingly simple questions. He does so in the way of a simple illustration. A father asks his first son to help in the vineyard, this son says, “I will not”, but then ends up going out to help. The second son says, “Yes, sir,” but did not help. The question is, “Which son did the will of his father?”
Obviously, the first son is the one who did the will of the Father. Jesus then compares the tax collectors and prostitutes to the first son, who initially said he wouldn’t help the father, but then came to a realization of how important it was to do the father’s will and goes out to the vineyard. The tax collectors and prostitutes where struggling with living their faith. They took the struggle seriously and eventually end up experiencing God’s mercy, Conversion, and the grace to do the will of the Father. We see this numerous times throughout the Gospels when the tax collectors and sinners seek out Jesus, welcome him to their homes for a meal, and after listening to him repent and change their ways. This process might take a while, but eventually it bears fruit and we see their conversions. Meanwhile, Jesus goes on to compare the second son who says the right things to the scribes and Pharisees. Like the second son, they quickly respond that they will do God’s will, but don’t show up to do it.
Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus describes them as having “ears, but do not hear, and eyes, but do not see.” They seem to be blinded and deaf to the reality that professing our faith and living our faith are two different things. It is somewhat easy to make a profession of faith, but going out and actually living it can be a different matter. They lacked an openness to God’s presence, and when challenged to look at their lives refuse to do so. They apparently see no need for true mercy in their lives, let alone an openness to conversion.
Each of us can ask ourselves how open we are to doing the will of the Father in our lives. Do we say, “yes” to the Father, and also show up to do our work? Expressing our desire to live the faith and to actually do so is something that we all struggle with. Each time we go to confession we pray an act of contrition, and in most forms we say something like this, “I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.” We have the right desire to do the Father’s will and we express that, however we seem to repeatedly fall into sin. We don’t want to sin, we want to resist temptation, yet we continue to find ourselves sinning.
Saint Paul put this rather nicely in his letter to the Romans, “I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” Paul goes on ask how he can get through this. He ends this portion with this beautiful answer; “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We cannot save ourselves, only Jesus can save us.
We can learn from both sons in the Gospel today. We should have the initial desire expressed by the chief priests and elders to do God’s will, and we should have the spirit of conversion of the tax collectors and sinners to actually to his will.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.