October 1, 2023
XXVI Sunday of Ordinary Time A
Mt 21, 28-32
"Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?" (Mt 20:15): this was the conclusion of last Sunday's Gospel passage (Mt 20:1-16), the so-called parable of the workers of the last hour.
God, as we saw in this parable, is like a good master: he is free from all calculation, from all lust for possession, from all power instincts.
And because he is good, he can do with his goods what he wants, because every thing he will do will be a good thing, will be a beautiful thing, that helps life, that serves the good of all.
Because he is good, he is free to treat his workers as he wishes, to treat everyone with justice, that is, giving each one not what he deserves, but what he needs, just like a father who knows his children and gives each one what he needs to live: he gives more to those who need it most.
Freedom, then, is true only when the heart is good: the good heart will be free to choose the good.
In today's parable (Mt 21:28-32) we see that man's heart is not necessarily as free as the heart of the master of the vineyard last Sunday.
The context is that of Matthew chapter 21: Jesus has finished his journey to Jerusalem and has entered the Holy City, his vineyard.
He made three very strong and significant gestures: he triumphantly entered the City (Mt 21:6-11), he drove the merchants out of the temple (Mt 21:2-17), and finally he cursed the fig tree that produces no fruit but only leaves (Mt 21:18-22).
These three gestures express a judgment on the Lord's vineyard, which is called to welcome the presence of the master and to convert to the demands of this new calling that the coming of the Messiah brings: Jesus is basically saying that the time is fulfilled, that there is an emergency to convert the heart, to accept God's gift.
But it happens that these gestures irritate the chief priests and elders of the people, who then approach him in the temple and ask him by whose authority Jesus allows himself to perform these signs (Mt 21:23).
And Jesus, as he often does, does not answer the question directly, but unveils the resistances of the human heart: John the Baptist has come, he replies, who, by his authority as a prophet, invited everyone to conversion. But not everyone recognized the urgency of this call.
Who recognized it? Not the leaders, not the priests, but the least, the sinners, the publicans, those who had the humility to convert, those who believed in the gratuitousness of God's gift (Mt 21:31-32).
So here we come to today's parable: it is with this parable that Jesus answers the question about his authority.
A man has two sons and sends them out to work in the vineyard: the first says he doesn't feel like it, but then repents and goes (Mt 21:29). The second, on the other hand, agrees right away, but then has no desire, and does not go.
So here we come back to what we said at the beginning: the heart of man, unlike God's, is incapable of choosing good, because it is tempted to do only what it feels like, as did the first son. And when he chooses it, like the second son, he does not really desire it after all, and so he does not move, does not leave.
And what allows one to be open to a greater and more beautiful will is not so much an effort of will, but a humble trust that believes (Mt 21:32) in God's goodness. This is conversion, which is always possible, as long as we recognize that we are in need of salvation, like the publicans and prostitutes who enter the Kingdom before us, not because they are better, but because they have not remained slaves to their own errors, or even to their own security.
The first son in the parable, the moment he converts and goes into the vineyard, at the end of the day, does nothing but truly and finally become a son, because a son obeys; he obeys not as a slave, but as someone who cares about the father's matters, as someone who wants what the father wants.
Because the Father is free and wants only the good.