Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
3rd Tuesday of Advent
The parable of the two sons is also a parable of the two kinds of monks. Jesus asks a simple question: “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The operative word here is did. Jesus suggests, without saying it, that it didn’t make much difference what they said.
So far as solemn profession goes, those SOP’s, the Strict Observant Pharisees, were all that could be desired. They kept the law. Their whole attitude corresponded to the answer of the second son: “Yes, sir”. Yet when John – whom they themselves admitted to be a prophet of the Lord – came to them “in the way of righteousness,” they set his word aside and refused to obey him.
On the other hand, many of those whose lives seemed to say “I will not”, when they heard the word of John, repented and began to do the works of God. So it turned out that many of these had entered the kingdom, while the self-complacent Pharisees still remained outside.
The message of the parable is the same as the message of this Year of Mercy: that the salvation of God is for the worst of sinners, for those who have been the most in-your-face in their first answers to the Father’s appeal. Jesus does not shy away from denouncing the self-deceived, the second kind of monk who makes his solemn profession, and then thinks it’s enough not to break any of the rules in an obvious way.
And yet when Jesus denounces, it’s always for a purpose, and that purpose is mercy. It’s to open the eyes of the wishy-washy, who only want to coast through life without making any waves. Even in that terrible sentence in which Jesus puts Pharisees and their monastic equivalents lower down than open and disgraceful sinners, there’s still a door of hope left open for them to enter. “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you;” but you may enter after them.
If only you monks, like your betters, the prostitutes, would “later change your minds and repent” – if only you would repent of your hypocrisy and insincerity, as they have repented of their rudeness and rebellion – then you would be as gladly welcomed as they were into the kingdom of God. Even if you are monks.