No one should pray to have any of these two boys for an ideal son. You won’t want a son who would say a blunt ‘no’ to your face when you ask him to do something that’s his responsibility. Even if he goes on to do it, to have the guts to say ‘no’ to his father means he needs a better lesson in obedience. Obedience does not begin with a ‘no.’ And for that other boy who fooled his dad by saying ’yes,’ then refuses to honor his word—I have a few words for him that I’ll prefer not to say. These are unruly kids, the kind that quite a few families are churning out these days. Ideal children would not only say ‘yes’ but match words with deeds. Hence, I choose to call today’s parable from Matthew 21:28-32, the “Parable of Two Bad Sons.”
Real good sons and daughters are hard to find. Between the two bad boys, obviously riveted with inconsistencies, Jesus inquires, which of them you would rather have. I think that the inconsistency of the first son is tolerable because he showed some remorse, which is a step forward. On the other hand, the inconsistency of the second son is clearly a copout, both conceited and deceitful. It’s like the politicians who say all nice words that they do not intend to keep.
So who is who in the parable? Jesus is the Ideal Son, who both said ‘yes’ and obeyed his His Father’s wishes to the end. Thus St. Paul refers to Him, in the second reading, as the one who “became obedient, even unto death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Here is the Ideal Son whom everyone should emulate.
The first ’bad son’ represented by the publicans, tax-collectors and prostitutes have no illusions about their situation vis-à-vis God. They knew they were a minus-sign in relation to God. But they made a U-turn, a metanoia, which found them acceptable to God. Ezekiel says about them in the first reading: “When a sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest… he shall certainly live; he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:28).
The second ‘bad son’ represented by the scribes and Pharisees were so convinced of their possession of the vineyard (the kingdom) that they fell prey to their delusion of uprightness, determining to remain the way they were, while spending all their energy and zeal to coarse change in others. They knew the right words, were convinced about their possession of truth, clever in speaking and arguing about them, but cannot take an inward look at the stench in their lives that needed removal.
To which group of ‘bad sons’ do you belong? The group that has no fine words but tried some good deeds or the group with all fine words but no good deeds? The hero of the first group is St. Augustine professing no faith, refused God, the Church, and prayer but later overcame his hesitancy, turned a new leaf, becoming one of the greatest saints ever known to fallen humanity. Then there are those of us who have all fine words, perhaps come to Church often, shout out ‘Amen,’ wear badges and medals, but unfortunately are full of hatred, animosity, vile and bile of all kinds. How often do you hear someone proclaim himself as a good Catholic, but when faced with the demands of the faith chooses to respectfully disagree. Ezekiel, likewise, says about those hypocrites: “When the upright person renounces integrity to commit sin, he shall surely die.” May our ‘yes’ be like that of Jesus, the Ideal Son!