“Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you.”

Matthew 21:31

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Matthew 21:28-32

In today’s reading, Jesus tells another straightforward parable. It’s a familiar story, one well known to fathers (and mothers) the world over. Asking a child to do something is a common event in the family. And the response, too, is very common. “Yes, sure, Dad, I will do it”, and nothing happens. And then the request to the other son and the answer: “No, I won’t do it!” followed by a positive response in action.

What is Jesus doing with this parable? It’s more than merely a moral tale about integrity, that actions speak louder than words, or that what you say doesn’t matter as much as what you do. Jesus is making a point here about the Kingdom of God. The Chief Priests, the elders, the scribes and Pharisees were the ones who had said yes to God, yes to the Kingdom, yes to the tasks which the Father was asking of them. Yet they did not do them. But the tax collectors, the prostitutes and sinners were the ones who had said no to God and his commands. And yet, they “are the ones making their way into the Kingdom of God”.

The question for us is: Which are we? Are we those who say yes but then don’t do the will of God, like the scribes and Pharisees? Each one of us will have to answer for ourselves. Saying yes and then not complying can take many forms: making promises we don’t keep, breaking our word about appointments and meetings, failing to turn up for important events, not paying back loans or debts which we have incurred, avoiding duties we have promised to carry out, even breaking vows we have made, and so on.

Or are we those who said no, but then relent and do it? Could it be like those who refuse to go to church, but pray every day? Like those who claim to be hard-hearted and selfish, or not interested in the poor and suffering of the earth, yet give generously to every beggar on the road. We all know such persons, people whose “actions speak louder than their words” and who sometimes embarrass us because of their generosity. When we see such things, let us remember the words of Jesus in this little parable, and ask for the strength to be those who not only say, but do what they say.

Lord Jesus,

You have given us a lesson in the importance of doing what we say to enter the Kingdom. Yet so often we find it hard to do that. We find it easier to say yes with our lips than with our hands. We find it hard to keep commitments. Help us to realise that with our own strength, we cannot do anything. Help us to know ourselves and our weaknesses, to cry out to you for the strength and perseverance to always say yes to you and your will. Help us to be yes in word and deed.


Tim Smith

Tim Smith is Regional Director for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Southern Africa, which covers Angola, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He lives in Cape Town with his wife Shona and son Patrick.

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