The parable in today’s gospel is probably among the shortest parables in the gospels, apart from the parables about the kingdom – the parable of the father and his two sons is contained within two verses. However, the parable is quite pointed as to whom it was being addressed to. It was addressed to the chief priests and the religious elders of Jesus’ time. Just the day before, Jesus had been welcomed into Jerusalem as their triumphant King. As He enters the temple, He was infuriated by seeing all the selling and buying that was taking place and then went on to drive out the money changers and seller out of the temple.
The parable we just heard is placed within a conversation that took place the very day after Jesus had driven out the businesses from the temple. The chief priests and the religious elders are so angry at Jesus’ actions that they question His authority. In answer to them, Jesus uses this parable to expose the insincere hypocrisy of the very same chief priests and religious elders who question His authority.
The core issue of this parable is about sincerity and integrity. In the parable, we heard the younger son telling his father: ‘Certainly, I will go’ but then did not go while the older son said: “I will not go” but then changed his mind and went. The parable is intended to highlight that actions must correspond with the words.
Among the problems Jesus faced when He encountered the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people was that they thought they knew everything and therefore they also had to know about the coming Messiah. For this reason, they did not recognise this ‘man from Nazareth’ to be the Messiah they were waiting for, the one that the Old Testament prophets prophesied about. Not only their arrogance to think they knew everything, they also thought because of their familiarity with rules and regulations, they had the sole authority to interpret and apply these rules and regulations on everyone else by laying heavy burdens on them. However, what was seriously lacking was that they did not adhere to it themselves. And so this parable was directed towards their insincere hypocrisy – probably the greatest obstacle in encountering God.
The path of discipleship that Jesus called upon all who came to Him is about sincerity and integrity – sincerity is about genuineness in word and integrity is about credibility in action. When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, it was not just for Him to communicate a set of rules and rituals to follow, but He wanted them to see this teaching of His in action. That is why when the disciples of John came to Jesus and asked Him ‘Teacher, where do you live?’, His answer was, ‘Come and see’ (cf. Jn 1:38-39). To come and see His teachings in action. To further concretise his teaching, Jesus will offer the ultimate sacrifice – the Cross!
To follow Christ is not simply saying “Yes” to the doctrines and observing some rites and rituals of the Church. To follow Christ is a choice of a lifestyle which is a result of a personal relationship with the Messiah. As one author puts it, [following Christ] “is a way of living in the truth…. [it] is a matter of living in our professional lives, in our personal relationships with others, and living with God in the truth, all the while being honest with ourselves, all the while being sincere in what we say to others and in how we treat them.” All this points to sincerity and genuineness in word and integrity and credibility in action.
Sincerity, genuineness, integrity and credibility are qualities that we not only expect of those who govern us but they are the core values of any relationship. Whether it is between husband and wife, employer and employee or just even among friends, when these core values breakdown, the relationships breakdown. The same is expected of a disciple of Jesus because the gospel message is based on truth as Jesus personifies the eternal truth. In the second reading today, St Paul in his letter to the Philippians, it is clear that what we profess with our lips must affect our life and one cannot be void of the other. Let us be resolute in our commitment to this Jesus whom we have come to worship in this Eucharist that what we proclaim here with our lips, may also strengthen our resolve to be more like Him when we return to our daily lives through our sincerity, genuineness, integrity and credibility which can only point to Jesus, our Lord and Master!
– 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)