Tuesday of Week 3 of Advent – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 21:28-32

It helps to be aware that today’s Gospel reading follows immediately on yesterday’s when the authority of Jesus was called into question. Today, Jesus offers the religious leaders a parable. It is about two sons who were asked by their father to go and work in his vineyard. One refused to go, but later repented and went. The other son said he would go, but did not. The question is then: “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

The parable can be read on two levels. On a more general level, it is the common theme of the Gospel that doing is more important than mere words. “It is not those who just say, ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the Kingdom…” The important thing is actually to carry out the will of God in our daily lives.

On a more particular level, the parable points to the situation which Jesus was facing. The religious leaders and many of the apparently religious people, who believed they were following God’s ways, refused to believe in John the Baptist and, after him, Jesus himself. On the other hand, people who were rated as deeply sinful and violators of the Law – tax collectors and prostitutes – responded to the call of John to repentance. They were deeply moved by John’s preaching, changed their ways, and were baptised by him in the Jordan. Even after that, the religious leaders still made no move. When Jesus came, again the religious leaders refused to see God’s hand in all he was doing, while huge crowds gathered round him.

The religious leaders are like the son who said ‘Yes’ to his father’s word, but did not follow it out in his life. They were experts in the wording and interpretation of the Law. The sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, who had constantly violated the Law of God, repented and changed their ways. It is clear which group is finding its way into the Kingdom.

Of course, we are not reflecting on these readings just to know how proud and arrogant the chief priests and elders were. They are for us to reflect on our own lives. Do we think that because we are practising Christians, we are in a privileged and untouchable position? Do we spend a lot of time praying in church, but not doing much loving outside of it? Do we find ourselves speaking in a critical or condescending way of less devout Christians, or of people who do not seem to be very moral by our standards? We have said yes to God by our baptism and membership in the Church, but can we say that we always carry out what God is asking us to do?

Probably, after some honest reflection, we would have to admit that we are not really in a position to sit in judgment on others. Given the gifts and graces we have received as Christians, we may not be doing very well compared with those who have never enjoyed the support of a Christian faith and a Christian environment. As Christmas approaches, let us be followers of the Lord in deeds as well as words.

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