Browsing Reflections

Fr. Jo's Reflection for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Yr A, October 1, 2023

No one should pray to have any of the two boys of today’s gospel for an ideal son. The first son surely needs a better lesson in obedience. Obedience does not begin with a ‘no.’ And for that other boy who thought he could fool his dad by saying yes, then goes his way playing around and refusing to honor his word—I have few words for him that I’ll prefer not to say or put in print. These are recalcitrant kids, the kind that quite a few families are churning out these days. Ideal children, the type you should want and raise are those who not only would say ‘yes’ but go on to let their deeds match their words. 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; meaning, we’ll take whatever is good enough. 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, during campaign say all the right words that they do not intend to keep. Or like the Easter and Baptismal pledge to reject Satan and all his works, in so far as that is only the right thing to say, with little intention to carry it through.

So who is who in the parable of today? Jesus is the Ideal Son, who both said ‘yes’ and went on to obey. He carried out His Father’s wishes to the end; thus St. Paul refers to Him, in the second reading, as the one who “emptied himself...becoming 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. Their life was a ’no’ to God but they saw themselves at a distance from which they could glimpse the holiness of God. 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’ is really bad, and is found among the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees, who, so convinced of their possession of the vineyard (kingdom), fell prey to their delusion of uprightness, determining to remain as 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 couldn’t take an inward look at the stench in their lives that needed removal. They rather became so bent on proving that they are right that they would fail to hear, see, and carry out the simple will of God, which is love of Him and neighbor, would not listen to the voice of reason, or the clear voice of God, who is Jesus, the Son of God.

To which group of ‘bad sons’ do you belong—the group that has no fine words but demonstrated good deeds or the group with all fine words but no good deeds? The hero of the first group is St. Augustine. He professed no faith, refusing God and the Church, likewise 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 who have all fine words, perhaps come to Church often, shout out ‘Amen,’ wear multiple medals, that are a cover for their hatred, animosity, vile and bile of all kinds. How often do you hear someone proclaim herself as a good Catholic, but when faced with the demands of the faith, she 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 consistent like that of Jesus, the Ideal Son!

Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo


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