Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel text for the Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Do you know people who are unwilling to be challenged with alternative perspectives? Do you also know people who seem to invite and welcome perspectives that are not their own?
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 October 1 2023. 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. Photo:Georg Pencz, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons; Randy Caparoso, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
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 continues his Gospel from that point, he next describes Jesus’ third and last prediction of his suffering and death, after which the mother of James and John approaches to ask that her sons sit on his right and left when Jesus comes into his kingdom, and the disciples’ reaction to her request leads to Jesus’ instruction on the use of authority. The 20th chapter in Matthew ends with Jesus healing a blind man.
The 21st chapter of Matthew begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem riding a donkey, and the crowds greeting him 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 answer his question, from where did John the Baptist get his authority. This interchange with the chief priests and elders leads into 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), Jacob, and Esau (Genesis 25:23-27:46) are two examples. 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 the 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 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 is 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 to his father. Neither son has responded in a way that would bring joy to the father.
But Jesus has asked the chief priests and the elders which son actually did what the father asked of him. Their answer embarrasses themselves, implying that they are like the first son, who in appearance says the right thing, but whose actions are lacking. In fact, their maintaining a virtuous appearance has prevented them from responding with care and compassion to many of the very people with whom Jesus commonly associates, the tax collectors and the prostitutes. These, who appeared less virtuous, went out, were baptized by John, and changed their lives, while the chief priests and elders did not recognize his Baptism.
- Have you ever felt the need to say the right things in order to maintain appearances or respect the authority of another?
- Can you also recall an occasion when you chose to speak the reality of a situation as you understood it, even if it was unsettling to those in authority?
- How do you respond to those in your community and church, in civil and social settings, who challenge your perspective?
- Do you know people who are unwilling to be challenged with alternative perspectives? Do you also know people who seem to invite and welcome perspectives that are not their own?
- Can you take some time to talk with God about the places in your life where you find it a challenge to have your words match your actions?