Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of Matthew 21:28–32. In this reading, we hear the story of the two brothers who respond differently to the request of the Father. One brother says what the father wants to hear while the other brother eventually does what the father wills. Ultimately it is the one who actually does the will of the father that Jesus esteems. These two practical examples emphasize the importance of actions over words when it comes to our lives of faith. Thus, this teaching offers important insights for the life of discipleship.

The first thing to note is how easily one can say “Yes” to the will of God without understanding what such a commitment entails, or even having the intention to fulfill it, in a person’s daily life. We enter into commitments of faith sometimes without even realizing it. Such commitments are not a benefit to us unless we are prepared to fulfill them. For the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time, they had gone to hear the preaching of John the Baptist (Mt 3:5–7a), but they did not conform their lives to that preaching. Thus, they implicitly said “yes” on the one hand by going to hear him but then failed to respond to his teaching and ended up saying “no” to a life conformed to that teaching. For Christians, we enter into commitments of faith in our baptism, which oblige us to become a member of Christ’s Body, a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a Child of God, an active member of the Church, and so forth. We also enter into a profound commitment of faith when we receive the Eucharist and are commissioned to become the Body of Christ in the world so as to allow the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist to live in us and through us. Our commitments of faith continue when we acknowledge our sins and seek God’s forgiveness while also resolving to avoid the occasions of sin and to amend our lives. The commitments of Christian marriage oblige us to give ourselves completely and irrevocably to our spouses even as Christ gave Himself to the Church in complete self-giving unto death. Indeed, it can be easy for us to enter into commitments of faith without realizing what they mean or without intending to fulfill them just like the second son in this parable.

What happens when religious people don’t witness the faith they profess in the lives they live?

What are ways in which we can focus on exterior expressions of faith at the expense of active mission?

What do you need to do each day to better fulfill your commitments of faith?

The second son was interested in saying what the Father wanted to hear rather than doing what the Father asked him to do. When can we find ourselves saying prayers without intending to live them out in our lives?

Some commitments of faith are listed above in the reflection. What are other unconscious commitments of faith people make (for example, the wearing of religious jewelry or clothing)?

The second thing to focus on is the importance that Jesus gives to actually doing the will of God. There is a great saying that states, “People may not believe what you say, but they will believe what you do.”[1] Matthew’s Gospel previously reiterated this point when Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven” (7:21-22). Actions always speak louder than words. In an ideal world, both our words and actions would conform to the will of God. It is the sad reality of human weakness that it is easier to say the right thing than to do the right thing. Thus, when it comes to our relationship with God, it is usually our actions that are lacking. An authentic relationship of faith asks for our complete and consistent response to God’s will both in what we profess and in how we live. Sometimes we see unlikely people responding to God’s will in a way that inspires us and reminds us of what we should be doing. It’s one thing when the person who inspires us is someone who has sat next to us in the pew every week for the past twenty years, but it’s another thing when the exemplary action comes from someone who only recently joined the Church or comes from a troubled background. Certainly that was the case with the tax collectors and prostitutes to whom Jesus refers in this Gospel passage. They are the ones who were perceived as having rejected God’s will in the Torah (Law of Moses) but were now conforming their lives to God’s will as revealed in Jesus. The chief priests, on the other hand, said “yes” to the Torah but were not conforming their lives to the message of Jesus. The chief priests were concerned with the longevity of their religious standing more than the quality of their present and lived response of faith.

What are ways in which we can be tempted to value our religious standing (including membership in a congregation) more than, or in place of, our present lived response of faith to the will of God?

The first son in this parable is the one who is praised for eventually doing the Father’s will. How do you pray so as to know God’s will and to do it?

What are examples of people who have only recently started to embrace a life of faith but who are doing better than many people who have been sitting in church for years?

How does this parable challenge you to learn from the good example of others when it comes to being responsive to the will of God? What good examples of others could we learn from today as a Church so to improve our ministry response and do the will of the Father?

If actions do speak louder than words, what faith are we professing by the lives we live? If someone were to write a creed based on how they saw us live, what would that creed say?

The younger son had time to repent of his negative response to the Father’s will. What invitation of faith have you been resisting yet still have the opportunity to accept? 

Jesus tells this parable to the chief priests and elders of the people so that they would realize the mistake they were making by not accepting our Lord’s teaching. The reality is that the chief priests and elders didn’t want to become followers of Jesus in large part because of those who were already following Him. They considered such followers notorious sinners with whom they did not want to be associated. It was the chief priests’ and elders’ disdain for other disciples that actually led them to reject the invitation to discipleship. It is always easier to look around us and focus on other people’s need to repent rather than our own need to repent. When it comes to opportunities for discipleship, the question we pose should not be, “Who else is responding?” but rather, “How can I grow closer to the Lord in this moment?” Sometimes we are only comfortable engaging in one opportunity of discipleship or another when we are assured that our friends or people like ourselves or people we respect will be part of it as well. Such a preoccupation with who else is involved can distract us and deter us from pursuing wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship. It can also prevent us from encountering the goodness of others whom we may not currently know or have not already met. Jesus wants disciples who will respond to His teaching on their own initiative and without prejudice or preference for who else is responding. Sometimes we can be like the chief priests and elders who paid more attention to the disciples than they did to the Master. Disciples will always be flawed; if we are waiting to find the perfect community of Christians, we would do well to remember the statement, “When you find the perfect Church, join it! Then it won’t be perfect anymore!”

Do you follow Jesus because of our Lord’s message or because of the attraction or distraction of the others who are already following Him?

What ministry opportunity have you been interested in but did not become a part of because of those who were or were not involved in it?

What is the danger of conditioning our response of faith based on the example or presence of other people or how they respond?

Who are the “sinners” with whom people don’t want to be associated today? 


[1] Pope Paul VI taught, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Pope Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (2 October 1974): AAS 66 (1974), 568; and Evangelii Nuntiandi, (8 December 1975), 41: AAS 68 (1976) 5-76.


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