Gospel for Sunday, October 1: Matthew 21: 28-32
XXVI Sunday A
28“What do you think? A man had two sons. He turned to the first and said, “Son, go work in the vineyard today.” 29And he replied: “I don’t want to.” But then he regretted it and went there. 30He turned to the second and said the same. And he replied, “Yes, sir.” But he didn’t go. 31Which of the two did the will of the father?”. They replied: “The first”. And Jesus said to them: “Truly I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are ahead of you into the kingdom of God. 32For John came to you on the path of righteousness, and you did not believe him; the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him instead. You, on the contrary, saw these things, but then you did not even repent enough to believe him.”
Mt 21: 28-32
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.
This parable, found only in Matthew, is the first of three parables that have the same basic theme: welcoming or rejecting the Kingdom.
A difficult text
“The first element to point out regarding today’s Gospel page is that the transmission of the parable of the two sons is very confusing. Some important witnesses, such as the Vatican code, reverse the order of the two sons, placing the son second who responds that he would not go, but then goes into the vineyard. This change could be due to an ideological reason centered on a certain vision of the history of salvation: the first son, who says he is going but then does not carry out his intention, would have already been identified by some Christian scribes with the Jews, while the pagans would be represented by the son who says he doesn’t want to go, but then he will go to work. However, since this logic was not supported by the order in which the protagonists are presented, the order would have been reversed. On the level of textual criticism, the order currently present in the critical text is to be preferred, even if some doubts remain.
The parable is the second to be set in the vineyard (the first was found in Mt 19.30–20.16), and is part of the first evangelist’s own material, and therefore has no parallels with Mark or Luke. Composed of just three verses, it is framed by two questions that provoke the interlocutor’s attention (v. 28: “What do you think?”, a classic rabbinical formula; v. 31: “Which of the two…”), and is followed by his explanation which takes up the question left pending in v. 27, of the authority of Jesus and the baptism of John.
The interpretation of the parable is delicate terrain, and has varied since ancient times depending on the authors, who focus above all on the figures who would be represented by the two sons of whom Jesus speaks. For some Fathers of the Church, the son who will not go to work in the vineyard is Israel. This reading conveyed that theology called “substitution” (or supersessionism), according to which – as a consequence of the fact that all the Jews would have rejected Jesus – there would no longer be any role for the people of the covenant in the history of salvation, a role which would therefore be assumed by the Church. This theology is not sustainable in any way: it would be enough to reread chapters 9–11 of Paul’s letter to the Romans to be convinced of this.
Those to whom Jesus addresses – and who are also those who investigate his authority – in our text, however, are not all of Israel, but only some of its leaders, as is specified shortly before the parable (see 21.23), and as Matthew will also say later (see 21.45). It is to these that Jesus speaks, and only to these will he say, a little further on, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation that produces its fruits” (21,43). This alternative interpretation can be based, in addition to philological reasons, also on the fact that the identification of the son who refuses to go to the vineyard with Israel is not universal: for other Fathers, such as, for example, Hilary of Poitiers, these would be only a part of the Jewish people (the Pharisees), or those who allow themselves to be influenced by them” (G. Michelini).
The first brother therefore embodies the leaders of the Jewish people, “the high priests and elders of the people” (Mt 21.23), who are obedient in words but not in deeds; the second, however, represents the sinners who convert by listening to the warning of the word of God. On the one hand, therefore, the Jewish leaders, on the other the despised classes of publicans and prostitutes. The latter follow the path that John indicates to be just: repentance; the Jews, on the other hand, profess but do not perform, they observe the law, not the works of faith. Life according to the law must be completed with the repentance proclaimed by John and Jesus, as a necessary condition for entering the Kingdom.
In its current form the parable undoubtedly reflects the faith of the pagans as opposed to the unbelief of the Jewish leaders. Even today, sometimes, sinners appear more available than practitioners.
Pope Francis reads this parable as a heavy warning against ecclesial clericalism: “There is that spirit of clericalism in the Church, which is felt: the clerics feel superior, the clerics distance themselves from the people, the clerics always say: «This is do this, this, this, and you go away! It happens when the cleric does not have time to listen to the suffering, the poor, the sick, the prisoners: the evil of clericalism is a very bad thing, it is a new edition of this ancient evil.” But the victim is the same: the poor and humble people, who wait in the Lord… The Father has always tried to get closer to us, he sent his Son. We are waiting, waiting in joyful, jubilant anticipation. But the Son did not enter into the game of these people: the Son went with the sick, the poor, the rejected, the tax collectors, the sinners and – it is scandalous – the prostitutes. But even today Jesus says to all of us and also to those who are seduced by clericalism: «Sinners and prostitutes will go before you into the kingdom of heaven».
The need for repentance
However, the parable is a strong call to conversion for everyone. “Poor God, how many things he has to see! If you put it in these terms of the parable of Luke 15, as here more than the parable of the prodigal son or the eldest son, it is the parable of a somewhat unfortunate father, because he has two sons, but neither of them immediately fits the bill. understand that he is Father. However, the one who most explicitly expresses his dissent, his rebellion, is objectively in a position to then return and create the prerequisite for a conversion, for a change of mentality, of view, of feeling, of judgment… Because publicans and prostitutes do they precede us? Precisely because they know they are wrong. Knowing you are making a mistake is the only dignity of man. He is the only one who can say: “I made a mistake.” Which means he’s smart. If not, it’s a mechanism that once loaded never makes a mistake and if it makes a mistake you knock it down, because the mechanism is broken. The man who says: «I made a mistake», shows the greatest dignity, which is recognizing guilt, saying: «I made a mistake, I didn’t understand well, I was a slave and not free. Now I understand better: I am freer and I change.” Someone who doesn’t recognize the mistake is serious: either he is dishonest to the highest degree or he is an imbecile. And man moves forward because he recognizes previous mistakes, which is why he takes a step forward and even his past history is thus recovered and lived in the meaning of him” (F. Clerici and S. Fausti).
“We must recognize that in Christianity repentance is the main way to access the will of God. As the Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras says excellently: «We Christians have the privilege of having a method other than worldliness, to approach truth: repentance”” (E. Bianchi)
Pope Francis also said: “In today’s Gospel, the one who makes the best impression is the first brother, not because he said “no” to his father, but because after the “no” he converted to “yes”. God is patient with us: he does not get tired, he does not give up after our “no”; he also leaves us free to distance ourselves from Him and make mistakes. But he anxiously awaits our “yes”, to welcome us back into his paternal arms and fill us with his limitless mercy. Faith in God requires us to renew every day the choice of good over evil, the choice of truth over lies, the choice of love of neighbor over selfishness. Whoever converts to this choice, after having experienced sin, will find the first places in the Kingdom of heaven, where there is more joy for just one sinner who converts than for ninety-nine righteous people (see Luke 15:7).
But conversion is a process of purification from moral encrustations; this is why it is never painless. The path of conversion always passes through the cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and without spiritual combat. Spiritual progress involves asceticism and mortification, which little by little lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes. Today’s Gospel calls into question the way of living the Christian life, which is not made up of dreams or beautiful aspirations, but of concrete commitments, to open ourselves ever more to the will of God and to love towards our brothers”.
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.