Today we have another of Jesus’ parables. In order to understand the parable it is helpful to put it in context of what has gone before in the passage.
Earlier in chapter 21 Jesus had driven out those who were engaged in selling and buying. Many believe that Jesus is simply condemning some greedy temple merchants for cheating people during their transactions. Fr. Roger Karban points out that the quote Jesus uses from Jeremiah brings a different understanding. “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.”
In his confrontation with Jewish leaders, the prophet doesn’t mean the den is the place where thieves do their thieving; it’s the place where they go after their thieving in order to find security.
Do they think their bad relations with God and other people can easily be taken care of by just visiting the temple and going through the prescribed rituals?
Like Jeremiah, Jesus perceives that for many of his fellow religious Jews, faith in Yahweh has dwindled down to a simple process of going to the temple, obtaining God’s ritual forgiveness for their actions, then going out and repeating the same sins over and over again. For such people religion has become a security blanket instead of the powerful motivation to go beyond themselves and their routines to build loving and just relationships. Catholics use of frequent confession without a firm purpose of amendment repeats this same pattern.
It is against the background of such a misdirected faith that we hear today’s story of the two sons. For Matthew’s Jesus, true faith isn’t about finding religious loopholes that let us go on sinning; it’s about changing our life’s direction.
Like the son who originally told his father, “I will not!” but eventually went to work in the family vineyard, some of the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus encountered changed their ways and entered the “kingdom of God.” In contrast to some of the virtuous people, they took Jesus’ message seriously and found God influencing their daily lives. Because they accepted the forgiveness Jesus offered them, they were able to change in ways that would have been unthinkable before that. (Fr. Karban, Celebration)
Saying yes to Christ is more than words. It becomes a matter of how to live that yes each day of our lives. The “yes” is not something pronounced only once, but embraced anew each day. After years of acting out such transformative love the words need hardly even be spoken as the loving deed says it all.
I just received word that the Diocesan Campaign will be making another effort in our parish and every parish in the diocese. Next week you will receive a letter (if you have not already received that letter) thanking you if you made a pledge or asking you to consider making a pledge if you have not done so.