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Reflection on Matthew 21.28-32

Listen to a reflection on the gospel reading set for Advent 3: Tuesday, 14 December 2021 – Matthew 21.28-32

Reading 
Matthew 21.28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.’

Reflection

Most children have moments when they dig in their heels and resist the guidance of their parents. Some throw temper tantrums when they cannot get their own way and others go into long sulks. Sometimes this ‘phase’ in a child’s growing up is short-lived, vanishing quite early in their lives. At other times, the foot-stamping and anti-social behaviour can go on for a whole lifetime.

Similarly, some people can be trusted to follow-through on the commitments and promises they make to others, while others will say anything to get them out of a tight corner or to give them some sort of temporary social advantage. Again, the development of honesty and trustworthiness may come early in life, or it may never develop.

In today’s reading Jesus speaks of these two extremes: the sons who say one thing but do the opposite. One son reacts in a spirit of self-interest, but then comes to understand the need to do his father’s will. On the other hand, the second son takes the expedient path of saying that which will appease, but then lets his father down by failing to follow-through on his promise. The chief priests and the elders recognized that it was the first son who did his father’s will, however, they would probably have been deeply offended by the conclusion Jesus’ parable was leading them towards.

John the Baptist had been sent by God as a forerunner and a herald of the Good News that stood before them: Jesus Christ. The religious elite failed to heed John’s words. Whilst living lives of apparent piety, they were aligned with the son who promised much and delivered nothing. But Jesus declared that there were others who seemed to do the opposite: the tax-collectors and the prostitutes, that is, those whose lifestyles would have placed them outside the acceptable boundaries dictated by the religious authorities. And yet, despite the lives they led, it was those outcasts who came to heed John’s message and believe.

Today’s reading is a challenge to each of us to consider how we react to God’s call in our lives. Do we live the outwardly pious life that makes us socially acceptable, whilst really following the agenda which gives us the highest level of personal comfort and pleasure? Or, do we acknowledge that our daily lives are flawed and in need of change, constantly striving to draw closer to the God we worship and to whom we pray for forgiveness and guidance? Which son are we?