Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: God's Kingdom - Parable of The Two Sons
Volume 8 No. 493 August 10, 2018
II. Lectionary Reflections

The Will of the Father...

by The Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt


Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Matthew 21:23-32

So much time has passed since then. Even so, I still offer this story with no small measure of pain.

We stood around her casket on a rainy Christmas Eve forty years ago. It was just my mother and dad, my three sisters, my grandfather, and me. There was no visitation for receiving the care and comfort of friends. There was no pastor to speak a word of light in our darkness, a word of comfort to our sorrow, a word of life as we faced death.

I was in the 7th grade. Though my grandparents had only moved to Illinois as my grandmother's health declined the year before, I knew that church was not part of her life. I did not know why, for it was never talked about. I was left to conclude that she was not a person of faith and in my then black- and-white, 12-year-old's faith, I reasoned that now, as a result, she must now be in hell.

I agonized over it, worried about it, wept at the thought of it, but I never spoke of it for fear of upsetting anyone. It affected me deeply though. Oh yes, even though the prophet Ezekiel is standing firm in the certain truth that our futures are not determined by our parents and grandparents, the proverb quoted there: "The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge" still rings true. We are shaped and changed by those who have gone before us. Without a doubt, it surely matters how we live our lives --- for our own sakes, of course, and for our contemporaries --- but also for the sake of those who come after.

I was well into adulthood before I heard the story behind the story. Even my dad, her oldest son, did not know the reasons why until then. He heard it from his sister whose mother had confided in her in her last years.

  • Why did Beulah speak with such bitterness about the church?
  • Why did she insist that her children be educated in the Catholic tradition, but never darken the doors for Mass herself?
  • Why was her special disdain reserved for certain normally respected and respectable residents of the town in Massachusetts which was her place of growing up and raising a family of her own?

This is why. In 1933 Tom Clark, my dad's dad, died from a stroke. He was 40 years old. They had a comfortable life until everything was lost in the stock market crash a few years before and in those last years of his life, Tom had been scraping by, doing his best to provide for his wife and two small sons.

When Tom died he left behind Beulah, who was not yet 30 years old. My dad, Tommy, was five. His little brother, Rodney, was three. At his death, Tom Clark's small family was left virtually penniless. And so Beulah took the only job she could get: selling magazines and cigarettes at a small downtown newsstand. She had no protection and found herself at the mercy of others. And so it was that for the rest of her life she would not forget that certain pillars of the community and the church --- married men with families of their own --- did not hesitate to make advances towards her. I cringe to think of it now --- how very painful and frightening this must have been for her. And without a doubt, her distress was compounded by this --- that their 'witness' to her was that the faith they professed seemed to have no bearing on their behavior when they walked into that shop. It would appear that their example was that of the son Jesus describes today who heartily and eagerly said yes to their father, and then somehow forgot, failed, and did precisely the opposite of what God would want.

Beulah never did get past it. And forty years later her granddaughter, not knowing the whole story, wept in fear for her soul.

Oh yes, it matters what we do. It matters how we live our lives in all the places we are privileged to live them.

Of course it is not as though any of us can ever get it completely right. Neither of the sons described in Jesus' story today got it right. For one said 'yes' and then proceeded to not do it. And the other shamed his father by saying 'no' before he got around to doing what he should. It's not that we won't fail. But that shouldn't keep us from trying. That shouldn't stop us from doing what we can to 'get it right' for the sake of one another and for the sake of all those who come after. Oh no, that shouldn't stop us from yearning after the new heart and new spirit which leads to life as Ezekiel promises today!

There is a lot going in in today's Gospel lesson. By now Jesus is in major conflict with the chief priests and the elders. I can't blame them for being distressed at Jesus' actions and accusations. (Remember that in Matthew's telling, just before this tense exchange he has violently cleared the temple of the money-changers.) Perhaps I would react in much the same way that they did. At the same time, I have been on the other side of the equation as well. I have known --- at least from a distance --- the consequences of being an 'outsider' to the faith like the tax collectors and the prostitutes Jesus speaks of now. I try to stay in touch with that ache even now. It makes me less certain, of some things, yes. At the same time, I think it also makes me more open.

If I had never known Grandma Hunt's whole story this may not have been so. I might still be worried about her apparent lack of faith. But then I learned about the pain that put her in that place. And while, like all of us, she certainly bore some responsibility for this, ever since then I have wondered at how that struggle shaped the rest of her life. Imagine what a difference it could have made if just one of those who had attempted to take from her what was not theirs to take --- if even one of them who had forgotten that Beulah was a child of God: so very loved by God and meant to be honored as such --- Imagine if just one of those had later apologized. How might it all have been different if only one had turned back and tried to make things better? Don't you suppose that one would have been doing the 'will of the father?' Even if it came late? For that matter, I can't help but think that if Jesus were telling the story, maybe, just maybe, Beulah preceded all the rest into heaven itself. This side of joining her there of course, I simply won't know.

In this meantime though, I find myself less likely to judge, less confident in my conclusions: especially about ultimate things. Unlike my seventh grade self, I trust that to God even as I try to remember that what I do and say matters. Even to children I may never meet.

I expect most of us can think of times when we have been like both of the sons in Jesus' parable today. Where have you seen this play out in your experience?

Since Jesus' words are directed at people like you and me, it may be hard at first to find the 'grace' in this story: at least for you and I who profess belief but don't always 'live' it. What do you think?

For me there is some comfort in the understanding that what appears to be absolute, not always is. For instance, Jesus reminds us that those least likely, by our standards, to 'enter the kingdom of heaven first' are those who actually do. I, for one, am grateful to leave such as this in God's hands. How about you?

It may be an unusual tying together of the prophet Ezekiel's words and Jesus' teaching today. I think it worked in the story I offer, but there are, no doubt, other ways to do so. What are your thoughts?

Source: Dancing with the Word, 2014

Two Types of Sinners

by Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32

"I already have a spouse, and I will not offend him by pretending that another might please me. I will give myself only to him who first chose me. So, executioners, what are you waiting for?"
– St. Agnes, martyr

'What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today. He answered, I will not go, but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, Certainly, sir, but did not go. Which of the two did the father's will?' 'The first' they said. Jesus said to them, 'I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.'
- Matthew 21:28-32

Christ the Lord Christ beats Israel's best sophists at their own game. This interchange takes place in Jerusalem right after the chief priests and the elders of the people had tried to trap Jesus in his own words by asking him the origin of his authority. Jesus deflects their attack, and turns the tables, so that they end up accusing themselves of infidelity to God.

Jesus Christ is more than a quick-witted debater. He is the Lord, the Word of God; his teaching "comes from above" (John 8:23) and ought to be accepted. The Church has never asked its children to have blind faith, to believe in Christ's words without good reasons, but it has always asked her to have healthy faith, to believe in Christ's words even when reason cannot completely explain them. Can a five-year-old child understand why he must eat beans and rice as well as candy and ice cream? Hardly, but he knows that his mother loves him, so he trusts that her menu will serve him well. Likewise, when we approach the Lord and his Church, we come not as his equals, but as his beloved and loving followers.

Faith means trusting in someone else's authority. The Pharisees trusted only in themselves, so they closed their minds first to John the Baptist's preaching, and then to Christ's. They even closed their minds to the results of this preaching: the conversion of sinners. We can never truly encounter Christ the Lord unless we are open to becoming his subjects.

Christ the Teacher This parable's lesson supposes that doing God's will is always the best course of action, a premise accepted by all parties in the discussion. Because we live in a secularized society that does not share this premise, it will be useful to take a quick look at it.

Usually, we determine the best course of action by first applying our own personal analysis and standards. Then, if what the Church or our superiors teach happens to be in agreement with our judgment, we accept it. If it doesn't, we tend to question them rather than ourselves. The Christian attitude should be exactly the opposite; it recognizes the weakness and limits of human nature (and therefore of oneself), and seeks to align its judgment with the assurance of God's revelation in Christ. It lets the warm and gentle sunlight of faith brighten the shadows cast by the quivering lamplight of natural reason. The result, as the unparalleled flowering of human thought in the Christian West evidences, is certainty without close-mindedness, understanding without cynicism, and confidence without arrogance.

The actual lesson of the parable follows this premise. If God's will is the best course of action, who is more worthy of praise – those who promise to fulfill it or those who really do fulfill it? Jesus despised hypocrisy more than almost every other sin. He called those who preach the truth but live falsely "whitewashed tombs, serpents, brood of vipers, blind guides" (Matthew 23). He went so far as to declare that salvation depends precisely on what we do, not merely on what we say or believe: "It is not those who say to me, Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). St James put it quite bluntly, "For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).

Neither son in the parable treated his father with due respect and obedience, just as neither hypocrisy nor greed and lust (the sins associated with tax collectors and prostitutes) please God, but clearly the one who "changed his mind" (with all the humiliation and humility that entailed) and went into the fields cheered his father's heart more than the other. Even if we tend to grumble at God's will when first we discover it, we can make his heart rejoice if we obey.

Christ the Friend

As followers of Christ, we can easily relish scenes like this for the wrong reasons: we like it when our Leader defeats his opponents. But Jesus cared little for such vain victories; he told this parable hoping to stir the consciences of those who needed to repent. He told this parable because he desperately wanted the chief priests and leaders of the people to "enter the Kingdom of heaven," and so far they were not doing so. Christ always has our ultimate good in mind. He seeks not his own glory and "success," but only the glory of his Father, which shines most brightly in the salvation of souls. Would that we followed more closely in the footsteps of our Friend!

Christ in My Life

Have you been trying to tell me something, Lord? Have I been deaf to your message, like the Pharisees, because I am too attached to my own ideas, my own desires? I want to follow you. I want to love you. I want to know you better. Teach me to do your will…

Sometimes I am like the older son, and then there are times when I am like the younger son, but I want to be like you, the perfectly faithful Son. Thank you for always forgiving me and giving me another chance. I know your will for me: my responsibilities, my conscience, my commitments, your commandments, your Church's teaching. To make your Kingdom come, I have only to make your will be done…

You went out of your way to convince the Pharisees and chief priests to follow you. Throughout your whole ministry they resisted, and yet you never stopped reaching out to them through your miracles, your teachings, your discussions, and your parables. Give me that same zeal and charity to bring those around me closer to you. With the love of your heart, inflame my heart…

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. and was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican's 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". ...

Source: Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction, used with permission

Three Desirable Traits From The Parable of The Two Sons

by Pope Francis

Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32

What are the features of the People of God? What should the Church be like? This was the theme of Pope Francis' homily for the Mass at Santa Marta on 15 December 2015.

In the day's passage from the Gospel according to Matthew (21:28-32), Jesus states to the chief priests and elders:

"Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you".

The Pontiff pointed out Jesus' "energy" in reproaching those who were considered masters of "how to think, judge, and live". The prophet Zephaniah too (3:1-2, 9-13), "takes on the voice of God and says:

'Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God'".

It is basically "the same reprimand" aimed "at the chosen people, at the clerics of those times". Moreover, the Pope emphasized, "to say to a priest, to a chief priest, that a harlot is holier than he in the kingdom of Heaven" is a very strong charge.

Jesus "had the courage to speak the truth". However, Francis said, considering certain reprimands, one has to wonder: "What should the Church be like? The people we read about in the Bible were indeed "men of the church". They were "heads of the Church". Jesus came, John the Baptist came, but those men "didn't listen". In the passage, the prophet recalls that although God chose his people, "this people became a rebellious city, an impure city. They did not accept how the Church should be, how the People of God should be".

However, the prophet Zephaniah communicates God's promise to the people: "I will forgive you". That is, the Pope explained, in order "for the People of God, the Church, all of us to be faithful, the first step is to feel we are forgiven.

After the promise of forgiveness, there is also the explanation of "how the Church is supposed to be: 'For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord'". Thus, the faithful People of God, Francis continued, must "have these three traits: humble, lowly, with trust in the Lord". At this point the Pontiff began his analysis of each of the three fundamental features.

First of all the Church has to be "humble".

In other words a Church should "not show off her powers, her grandeur". However, the Pope advised, "humility doesn't mean a lethargic, weary person" with a demure expression, because this "is not humility, this is theatrics! This is feigned humility". True humility, instead, begins "with the first step: ‘I am a sinner'". Francis explained that if "you are not able to tell yourself that you are a sinner and that others are better than you, you are not humble". Thus, "the first step for a humble Church is feeling that she is a sinner" and the same is true for "all of us". On the other hand, if "any of us has the habit of looking at others' defects and gossiping", this is not humility. It is instead "thinking that you are the judge of others". The prophet says: "I will leave in the midst of you a humble people". This, the Pontiff advised, is a grace, and "we must ask for this grace, that the Church may be humble, that I may be humble, that each one of us may be humble".

His meditation then passed on to the second trait:

The People of God "is poor".

In this regard Pope Francis recalled that poverty is "the first of the Beatitudes", but what does it mean to be "poor in spirit"? It means "being attached only to God's treasures". It definitely does not mean "a Church that exists attached to money, that thinks about money, that thinks about how to earn money...". For example, the Pope explained, there was someone who "innocently" said to the people that in order to pass through the Holy Door "you have to make an offering". This, the Pontiff clarified, "is not the Church of Jesus, this is the Church of those chief priests, attached to money".

To further explain his thoughts, Francis recalled the story of Deacon Lawrence - the "treasurer of the diocese", - who, when the emperor asked him to "bring the riches of the diocese" to turn them over in order to avoid being killed, St Lawrence returned "with the poor". Thus the poor are actually "the treasure of the Church". You can even be "the head of a bank", as long as "your heart is poor, not attached to money" and you place yourself "at the service" of others. "Poverty", the Pope added, is characterized by "this detachment" which leads us to "serve the needy". He concluded this line of reasoning by directing a question to each person: "Am I or am I not poor?".

Lastly, the third trait:

The People of God "shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord".

This too brings up a very direct question: "Where do I place my trust? In power, in friends, in money? In the Lord!".

Thus it is this "legacy that the Lord promises us: ‘I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord'. Humble because they feel they are sinners; poor because their heart is attached to God's treasures, and if they have them it is only to administer them; seeking refuge in the Lord because they know that the Lord alone can guarantee what is good for them". This is why Jesus had to tell the chief priests, "who did not understand these things", that "a harlot would enter the kingdom of God before them". And, the Pontiff concluded, as we await the Lord this Christmas, let us ask that he give us "a humble heart", a heart that is "poor" and above all that seeks "refuge in the Lord", because "the Lord never disappoints".

Source: L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly ed. in English, n. 51, 18 December 2015
© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

The Story of the Two Sons

by Rev, Alex Pease

Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32

Two sons. Both asked to go to work in the vineyard by their father. One refuses. The other agrees to go. But the one who refuses subsequently 'changes his mind' and does what his father asked whereas the one who said he would go doesn't.

The little story that Jesus tells about the two sons turns everything upside down – as he was prone to do. You see you would think that the people that he would praise would be the religious ones – the ones who had always done what was right; always gone to church and always said and done the right things according to the rules of the society in which they lived. But no. Jesus says that the religious people of his time just didn't get what God wanted them to do. They were like the son who had said that he would go and work in the vineyard, but actually did not go.

No Jesus commends the people who had behaved really badly by the standards of the time – the prostitutes and the tax collectors.

In Jesus time, the tax collectors were working for the occupying Romans. They collected taxes with a bit on the top for themselves. They were cooperating with the enemy. They were traitors. The lowest of the low. Lower than the prostitutes.

But Jesus says that the tax collectors and the prostitutes had seen what Jesus was doing (and John the Baptist before him) and had decided to follow him and their lives had been transformed and, according to Jesus, 'they were getting into the kingdom of God' ahead of the religious people.

Now, of course, I am not suggesting that anyone here was a….tax collector…but what I want to say is what ever reason you might have felt alienated from God; from Christianity – things that have happened to you or things that you have done yourselves. Or the suffering that you may have experienced during your life, which may make you angry with God and felt separated from him. Anything that may have happened – whatever the obstacle – it is not too late to repent – to ask for forgiveness for anything that you might have done in your life – to ask for forgiveness for a life spent in isolation from God – and to take up today – now the offer that Jesus makes to you to join him in his Kingdom and to spend eternity with him.

Because Jesus is the solution to loneliness; Jesus is the answer to a feeling of meaninglessness and futility; Jesus is joy when you should be feeling miserable; Jesus is excitement when you should be feeling bored; Jesus is comfort in your suffering. He is the reason we were made and the meaning in our existence and until we find our place in his arms we will never be content.

So repenting means sincerely turning away from our lives spent ignoring him. Turning away from our decisions to deny him. It's a worthwhile thing to do. It's the most important decision you will take in your lives.

So if that is something that you want to do; no-one is forcing you to do so… I am just going to say a little prayer. Please follow along. I am going to read it out first and then say it slowly – no need for you to say anything out loud, just repeat it silently in your heart.

Lord Jesus Christ. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life (just take a few moments to ask his forgiveness for anything in particular that is on your conscience).

Please forgive me. I now turn from everything which I know is wrong.

Thank you that you died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free.

Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your spirit. I now receive that gift.

Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.

Thank you Lord Jesus. Amen

Source: Itchen Valley Churches


Malankara World Journal is published by
Copyright © 2011-2019 Malankara World. All Rights Reserved.