Sunday Homily 1 October - Fr Paul Rowse, OP
You may have noticed that the Lord’s parables have taken quite a turn. This was no homespun yarn about crops, sheep, or lost objects.
This parable was told in the Temple, in the great expanse where even Gentiles might come and observe some of the proceedings. And there, in that place where all rush in towards the sacrifices (and so to mercy, thanksgiving, and praise of the God of Israel), the Lord drops this parable about the two disobedient sons.
The Lord’s words are directed at the chief priests who organised everything at the Temple. This power of organisation meant that their influence extended far beyond the Temple precinct. After all, if the chief priests say the Temple needs something, that something will be provided from elsewhere. Everyone and everything gravitates towards the Temple and its authorities.
The Temple authorities have been giving mixed signals. They say Yes to the Law, but No to its violators; Yes to the sacrifices, but No to the people they’re offered for; Yes to Moses, but No to John and so to Jesus too.
So, the chief priests are that second son, the runner up. They are compromised by their insistence on adherence to the law on one hand and the dismissal of those who haven’t kept it. They’ve only given their word, not their action; it’s lip service not true service.
But there’s another group on the scene. They’ve finally emerged from the dark places that their shame has sent them to live in. They had said No to the Law, but now Yes to Jesus. They’re the first son: the firstborn of heaven, because they’ve made their repentance.
In the Lord’s eyes, both the chief priests and the repentant sinners failed in life. That’s why he came; human failure is why he came. And there, in the Temple, he shows that past failure can be atoned for, by accepting him, the true Lamb of sacrifice. The old ways of the Temple might have united all Israel in repentance, but in fact they became a source of division. Thus, a fault-line opens up on the basis of one group’s morality. There’s no way home for sinners and scoundrels until Christ comes.
When Christ comes, he offered himself and so brought them back. The repentant sinners were his great admirers and most fervent devotees. Some were even his disciples; why, the very author of the Gospel, Matthew himself, is a former tax collector welcomed home to God’s favour by the grace of Christ.
So, our parable stands against all those who would condemn sin but offer no redemption, no way home. Make no mistake, we have to repent of our sins and turn our lives around. We must make up for our past lives: the sacrament of reconciliation will be an important part of that conversion. This being October, if your last confession was before September, it’s time to go again.
We need to strike the right balance between love for God and zeal for his law on the one hand, and our occasional failures on the other. The balance is conversion of life, turning with all our heart towards the Lord, who turns on those who refuse to give the second chance to others they would demand for themselves.
Let no one put you off. Let no one tell you that confession is unnecessary or that the attraction of sin is too great. You are loved by God in Christ, who put away his divine glory for a time to dwell with us and to redeem us. With so much love coming to us from God’s true temple in heaven, we can now make our way home to his favour by the grace of Christ.