October 1, 2017
XXVI Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Last Sunday, the Gospel gave us the parable of the landowner who hires workers for his vineyard at every hour and, at the end of the day, gave all of them the same pay (Mt. 20:1-16). Today, we, also, hear a parable, and there is also a man that sends to work in his own vineyard. It’s no longer workers, but sons: two sons, who react with two contrary attitudes.
We’re still in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus has solemnly entered Jerusalem (Mt. 21:1-10), has driven the sellers and buyers from the Temple and has overturned the money-changers’ tables (Mt. 21:12), and now He’s in the Temple discussing with the leaders of the Pharisees (Mt. 21:23), who question Him concerning the authority that he does these actions and He addresses them with these parables.
Jesus respond directly to this question, but with a reference to the Baptist (Mt. 21:24-26) exposing the Pharisees and so revealing their inability to receive any provocation or warning: this is the real problem.
Jesus then adds the parable that we hear today, introducing it with a question (What is your opinion”? – Mt. 21:28) by which He asks His hearers to listen. This question will come up a little later, when the hearers will be invited to make their very own discernment on who, in the parable, has actually obeyed the father (Mt. 21:31); and this so to review their own life more carefully, their narrow-mindedness, and to open themselves, therefore, to conversion.
The parable (Mt. 21:28-30), very short and simple (in a way that no one can say they did not understand it), presents a father who has two sons and a vineyard. He asks both to go there to work: the first say no because he does not wish to, later he repents and goes. The second son says “yes” at one, but does not go there.
The parable can be read on two levels, at least.
The first one is typical of the Gospel of Matthew, for which there are insufficient words to express actual belonging to the Kingdom, but the facts are: it’s enough to think of the parable that concludes the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 7:24-27), about the two houses, one built on rock and one on sand. The parable is preceded by its interpretation, according to which “not everyone who says to Me “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does the will of my Father…” (Mt. 7:21).
Matthew has this as a dear theme and he includes positive examples of persons that do not speak but act: the first, surely, is Joseph, who never speaks but always puts into practice what he hears (Mt. 1:24; 2:14); and we find many others like him in the last parable recounted by Jesus, which directly precedes the account of the passion and resurrection. It is the parable of the final judgment (Mt. 25:31-46), the account in which we will discover that the Kingdom belongs to whoever has made a gesture of love, even unaware.
This theme, of the relationship between words and works, is important because it expresses a unity of the heart of one who lives the salvation of Christ: then his works show explicitly what’s in the heart, what the man believes in; it’s the Word that bears fruit (Mt. 13:23)…
But there is a second level: in fact, immediately after the parable, Jesus clarifies that working in the vineyard does not consist first of all in doing some specific works, but in repenting and believing (Mt. 21:23), like the one who first says “no”, but then repents and goes to work in the vineyard.
If we read the parable, keeping in mind last Sunday’s reading, we could say that going to work in the vineyard consists in the conversion of heart of those who embrace the new logic of the Kingdom.
Saying “yes”, and then going, demands that one allows the heart to be radically transformed, then the eyes, and then the entire life. So, it’s not something to do, but a new perspective by which to live.
Like the workers of last week, the struggle, the work to do, is first of all within oneself, to get away from a viewpoint of merit and compensation and enter the logic of grace, a paradoxical logic that exists only in the Kingdom of heaven.
And if we step back to the Gospels of previous Sundays, the new logic is that of forgiveness, of those who have received forgiveness and cannot do other than share it with their brothers.
The leaders of the Pharisees, assuredly, did many good works.
What they were lacking, to say “yes” with words and life, consisted in a profound repentance, in an assent to the God of gratuitousness, who transforms the entire existence, and therefore changes relationships, making them truly fraternal.
In this, “sinners” are, in some way, at an advantage, because it is more obvious for them to feel defective and needy: they “will go ahead” (Mt. 21:31), as, in last Sunday’s parable, the last went ahead and became the first. “Going forward” is the verb of the master who walks ahead of the disciple, to show him the way.
Some Sundays past we heard it when Jesus said to Peter to get behind Him (Mt. 16:23), to not be the master, but the disciple. And in Matthew 23:10 Jesus expressly asks that no on be called master, except Him.
The only masters by which Jesus paradoxically permits himself to substitute are the little ones: the children (Mt. 18:3; 19:14) and sinners, those who have learned the logic that lives in this strange vineyard, where the Father calls always everyone, and to all those who receive it, He gives life gratuitously.