Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle A

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Matthew 21: 28-32

"Jesus said to the chief priests …"

Jesus addressed today's parable to the religious leaders of the people. He was contrasting their response to John the Baptist with that of people whom they, the chief priests and elders, would have considered contemptible sinful outcasts. The ‘religious’ people, blinded by their self-righteousness, could not see their own need for conversion. Consequently, they had rejected John's preaching. Their profession of obedience to God was pure lip-service, merely outward observance, just a thin veneer. They are like the second son of the parable whose “Certainly, sir” led nowhere.

In contrast Jesus suggested that many publicans and prostitutes had been open to the Baptist's call to repentance. They had responded by acknowledging their sinfulness, repenting and making their lives conform to standards of the kingdom of God. Those of the religious establishment had remained locked in their rituals, an meaningless ‘yes’ to God. The outcast sinners, whose lives hitherto had been a ‘no’ to God, had since accepted God's word and responded to it in life. Their initial ‘no’ had become a living ‘yes’.

There is a warning here to ‘religious’ people in every age: what we profess to believe has no value if it is not translated into active obedience in daily life. It is not enough simply to go through the outward motions of religious observances if they leave us unchanged and failing to respond to Jesus’ call to further the kingdom in our lives, our homes, our parish, our world. And at the same time, alongside today's warning, there is a most consoling reminder – that we are free to change. Whatever our past might have been, however great our failings, we can always renew our 'yes' to God.