Homily for the twenty-sixth Sunday in the year

Year A  -  Mt. 21:28-32


by

Father Daniel Meynen
 
 

"Jesus said to the Jews:  «What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, `I will not,' but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?»  They said, «The first.»  Jesus said to them, «Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.»"



Homily:


"Jesus said to the Jews:  «What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, `I will not,' but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?»  They said, «The first.»"

When Jesus told this story, or parable, to the Jews who were listening to him, an extraordinary event in his life had just taken place:  his triumphal entry into Jerusalem!  It is quite probable that Jesus told this parable two days after that event, and thus only three days before his death.  This fact is very significant in helping us to understand the meaning of the words Christ addressed to the Jews at that moment.

An immense crowd of people, Jews from all corners of the world who were in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, had just acclaimed Jesus as King, the Son of David:  "Hosanna to the Son of David!" (Mt. 21:9)  However, a few days later, these same people, with few exceptions, would cruelly injure the Son of God by condemning him to death, and preferring a thief - Barabbas - to him!  "The governor again said to them, «Which of the two do you want me to release for you?»  And they said, «Barabbas.»  Pilate said to them, «Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?»  They all said, «Let him be crucified.»" (Mt. 27:21-22)

So, in telling this parable, Jesus certainly knew that the Jews who had acclaimed him as King two days earlier would betray him three days later:  Jesus knows that they have a changeable spirit, and even a false spirit in the case of many.  These Jews, whom the Lord loves and still wishes to save at any price, resemble the son of the parable who said, "I go, sir," but did not go.  These Jews resembled that son, who perhaps had the intention of doing what his father asked of him, but who, later on, changed his mind and did not go to the vineyard.  These Jews at first acclaimed Jesus King, but then out of fear, cowardice, or some other blameworthy motive, betrayed their Master, their Savior!

"Jesus said to them, «Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.»"

The son who had said, "I will not," but who then repented and went, is not a stranger to his brother's evil behavior.  Even if it isn't explicitly stated in the text, this can be deduced from the commentary given by Jesus after he had told this parable.  This son, who said, "I will not," knows what repentance is; and his whole desire, his tireless hope - even if he knows it will no doubt fail to be realized - lies wholly in the words of the Lord, who declares to the Jews who listen to him:  "even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him."  Jesus, who is the "brother" of all par excellence, must in fact manifest to the Jews this deluded hope in their true and lasting conversion.

Like the son who repented of his evil behavior towards his father, the tax collectors (including Matthew himself) and the harlots changed their behavior:  the former renounced the allure of money, and the latter fled the pleasures of the flesh.  This spectacle could have served as an impetus to the other Jews and led them to conversion . . .  But the Lord has already told us:  "Many are called, but few are chosen." (Mt. 22:14)  Among the Jewish People, the model nation par excellence, the one God has chosen for ever to be "his People," how many Jews were there at the time of Christ who were similar to the son who said "I will not," but who, later on, repented and went;  and how many Jews were there who, on the contrary, imitated the other son who said "I go," but who did not go?

"Many are called, but few are chosen."  This is an embarrassing question . . .  one to which we would prefer not to give an answer . . .  And yet, Jesus had indeed spoken these words, and did so on more than one occasion!  Here, as in other passages of the Scriptures, the Lord provides us with a clear answer to this problem.  Indeed, Christ said that "John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him;  and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him." (Mt. 21:32)  This means that the elect of God are those who believe in him and in the one he has sent:  Jesus Christ.  Those who believe with true faith, a faith that attains to the conversion of the heart, they are the elect of God!

The Most Blessed Virgin Mary has always believed in God with all her heart;  in particular, she believed in everything the Angel Gabriel told her concerning the coming of the Son of God in her:  "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord!" (Lk. 1:45)  Let us ask, on our own behalf and on behalf of all the men and women of the world, for the grace of faith in Christ, a profound and unshakeable faith, ready to move mountains, if need be!  May such a grace be granted to us through the intercession of Mary!