The Gospel for the Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time is ours to contemplate. Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM encourages us in down to earth perspectives. The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection September 27 2020. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.
In the final line of last week’s gospel, Jesus declared that the last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16). As Matthew’s gospel continues from that point, he next describes these events: Jesus’ third and last prediction of his suffering and death, the mother of James and John approaches to ask that her sons sit on the right and left when Jesus comes into his kingdom, the disciples’ reaction to her request, and Jesus’ instruction on the use of authority. The 20th chapter of Matthew ends with Jesus healing a blind man.
The 21st chapter of Matthew begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem riding a donkey and the crowds crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Then, Jesus enters the temple area and overturns the tables of the moneychangers and those selling doves to the pilgrims for offerings. The chief priests and the scribes confront Jesus. The following morning, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, he curses a fig tree because it has not borne fruit and it dies immediately. As Jesus is teaching in the temple area, the chief priests and the elders question his authority. Jesus says that he will respond to their question if they will tell him where John the Baptist got his authority. This interchange between the Pharisees and Jesus leads to the parable that is the text for today’s gospel.
Stories about two sons were a familiar way of making a point. The stories of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) and Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:23-27:46) are well known. The prophet Ezekiel tells the story of two sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, who represent Samaria and Jerusalem in his story (Ezekiel 23:1-49). In today’s gospel, the son who refuses to go to work in the vineyard has broken with accepted norms of behavior and insulted his father, who would typically have had the legal right to punish him and even put him to death.
Jesus is very shrewd in the way he phrases the question he puts to the chief priests and the elders. He does not ask which son has honored his father. People of the day valued honor more than obedience. To their way of thinking, the son who only said he would work in the vineyard was more honorable than the one who said he would not. It may be helpful to know that there are no private conversations in this culture. The questions and the responses of the two sons are presumed to be known by the whole community. The son who said he would go and work in the vineyard honored his father, while his brother’s response was an embarrassment.
But Jesus has asked who actually did what the father asked of him. Jesus is implying that those he is addressing are like the first son, who in appearance says the right thing, but whose actions are lacking. In fact, their maintaining a virtuous appearance was preventing them from responding with care and compassion to many of the very people with whom Jesus commonly associated, the sinners and those on the fringes. Jesus does not say to them that they will not enter heaven, but he does say that tax collectors and sinners will enter before them. Many of the sinners were those baptized by John, who had then changed their lives. Many of the religious leaders were also baptized by John, but their baptisms did not lead to the same kind of change in the way they lived their daily lives.
- Have you ever felt the need to say the right things in order to maintain appearances or to respect the authority of another?
- Have you also felt the need to speak to the reality of a situation, even if it was unsettling to those in authority?
- Are you aware of a time or two when people said things to you publicly that were not flattering? Were you more upset by what was said, or by the unflattering circumstance?
- How are you personally dealing with the very public arguments that are taking place in our communities, our country, and our world?
- Can you take some time to talk with God about your experience of trying to show respect and speak the truth about things that you believe need to change?