Deeds, Not Just Words
26th Sunday in OT

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

As one theologian has observed, one reason that makes the Gospels a very interesting read is the number of stories (parables) it contains about all kinds of people--mauled travelers, biased judges, fair landowners, unscrupulous stewards, prodigal sons, wise and foolish bridesmaids, treasures of great prize, etc. The truth of the parables does not depend on whether the stories actually happened but on whether the listener catches something of the unseen reality that they point to - the various aspects of the Kingdom which Jesus came to establish. Moreover, the stories hardly make any reference to the supernatural. They are told at the level of our eating, drinking, sleeping, working, worshiping, offering hospitality, sharing bread, etc. It is in these ordinary and mundane activities which we ordinarily do that our salvation are being worked out, that is, we are saved where we are.

In today's gospel reading (Mt 21:28-32), Jesus told the chief priests and the teachers of the law the parable of a father who ordered his two sons to work in the vineyard. One said "no" but later had a change of mind and went. The other said "yes" but did not go. At the end of the parable, Jesus asked, "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" They answered, "The first." From their nonchalant response, Jesus must have concluded that they did not think the parable applied to them. So He drew out its message for them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you", or in another translation which is perhaps more accurate, "they go in while you do not."

The son who said "yes" but did not go exemplified the Jewish religious leaders (and their modern equivalents) who professed obedience to God's will by strict observance of the law and looked down on people who did not. And no one could ever change their outlook. Not John the Baptist despite his pleadings to change their ways. Not even Jesus who, in utter frustration, finally told them what they were--proud, avaricious, self-righteous and hypocrites.

On the other hand, the son who said "no" but nonetheless went exemplified the prostitutes and tax collectors--the collective group for "sinners." They were aware that they did not live according to God's laws but were open to a change of heart, to conversion. So when they heard John preached about repentance, they gave up their sinful ways. And after John pointed Jesus to them as the "Lamb of God", some began to follow Him.

We see many actual people in the gospels who said "no" to God and later relented and said "yes." There is Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, who later washed the feet of Jesus with her tears of repentance. She eventually became Jesus' first woman disciple. There is Levi, the hated tax collector who, on hearing Jesus invite Himself to dinner at his house, immediately made amends by promising restitution to those he had cheated. Etc., etc. Because of the openness of such people to God's call to conversion, they were counted among those who "did what the Father wanted."

Looking at ourselves, we could be one or the other son. We may have said "yes" to God's call to conversion, but did not have the courage to change our sinful ways. Or we may have said "no" to God's invitation but later have "a change of mind," accepted it and returned to Him. If we did, it is not because of ourselves but because of our cooperation with God's grace. For this, we can only thank God for His love and mercy for us.

Repentance or conversion--a change of heart--begins when we realize our helplessness in the face of sin. We then open ourselves to the saving action of God Who is always ready to extend His forgiveness and love. Then we effect changes in our sinful lives and follow Him again.

In the whole history of the human race, there is only one person who said "yes" to God and never took it back--Mary. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her at the Annunciation and told her that she was going to be the mother of the Savior, she humbly responded, "Be it done to me according to your word."

In due time the angel's words became a reality with the birth of Jesus. Mary nurtured Him to maturity. She was also present in all the major events of His life--His circumcision and presentation as prescribed by the law; His first miracle at Cana at the start of His ministry; and in His crucifixion and death. Because she always said "yes" to God, she could confidently sing in her Magnificat, "All generations shall call me blessed." Moreover, after her death, she was assumed body and soul into heaven.

Let us then call on Mary our mother and ask for her help so that, like her, we will--from our conversion on--continue to say our "yes" to God