In the beginning

Parables of brothers examine obedience, repentance

in the beginning

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Brothers and sisters often accuse the youngest of enjoying favoritism from the parents. After all, he (or she) is the baby of the family and can get away with more, at least so they claim.

The oldest sibling often assumes greater responsibility and presumably is more mature. The parable of the prodigal son, Lk 15:11-32, reflects this line of reasoning.

When the younger spendthrift son repents his wayward ways, the older son complains that he has always obeyed his father. Nonetheless, the parable points to the young son as the one to imitate, while it gently condemns the older son.

Two sons also appear in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 21:28-32, in another of Jesus’ parables.

We are not told which is the younger and which is the older. In fact, we are not told anything about them, except that one initially refuses the command of his father, but subsequently obeys, while the other at first says that he will comply with the command, but then fails to follow through with his promise.

Jesus addresses this parable to the chief priests and elders of the people, whom he identifies with the son who begins as obedient, but then ignores the orders of his father.

By their office as chief priest and elder, they claim to be following God’s will. Despite this claim, they reject the preaching of John the Baptist. They refuse to repent.

The parable teaches the importance of actions over words. It reminds us of an earlier teaching of Jesus, where he says: “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” (Mt 7:21).

The second son politely addresses his father as “Lord,” (translated in our Gospel reading as “sir,” but it is the same word), but then fails to do the will of his father.

In contrast, the first son abruptly refuses his father’s orders, “I will not,” but then reconsiders and does it anyway. Politeness is not everything.

The parable also teaches the importance of repentance.

The son who reconsiders his earlier refusal to comply with his father’s orders is held up as an example to follow.

In that respect, he resembles the younger brother in Luke’s parable of the prodigal son. Similarly, the tax collectors and prostitutes have listened to John the Baptist’s message, reconsidered their previous way of life and repented.

These newcomers enter into the path of salvation, while the old- timers, the chief priests and elders, turn away from it.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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