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Godzdogz

The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Third Tuesday in Advent: a parable of two brothers

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Have you ever noticed how in the Old Testament the contrasting behaviour between brothers is an important theme? 

It all begins, in the book of Genesis, with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, and then continues with the rivalry between Ishmael and Isaac, the usurpation by Jacob of Esau's position, and ends with the conflict Joseph and his brothers. One brother seems to be doing God's will, the other seems to go in the completely opposite direction. And yet, God is seen to take pity on the straying brother. He will not give up that easily.

In the Gospels there are two parables about brothers, The most famous parable being the story of the prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32). Both contain the theme of contrasting behaviour. Today, however, we read a lesser known parable that can be found in Matthew's Gospel (21: 28-32). The story starts in the Temple, where the priests and elders are confronting Jesus over his authority (Matt. 21:23). They are the 'you' Jesus addresses at the beginning of today's reading:

"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today." He answered, "I will not"; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, "I go, sir"; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said: 'The first'. Jesus said to them, "Truly, I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."

Some commentators have argued that this parable is about the difference between the ordinary people (the plebs) and those who stand far above them (the priests). The remark further down in the text, that the chief priests and the Pharisees heard the parables and realized that Jesus was speaking about them (Matt. 22: 45), seems to support that thesis. Others have argued that this parable is about salvation history, in which one brother represents the Gentiles and the other one the Jews. 

But as we are preparing for Christmas, let us try to read the parable in a more personal way. How often do we say yes to God, praying that His will be done, and yet still pursue our own will? How often do we make promises to do this thing or that, and have to conclude at the end of a busy day that we did neither? Earlier in the same Gospel, Jesus warns us that he is not going to be impressed by good intentions alone: "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" (Matt. 7:21). 

So let's make this Advent a moment for conversion, away from empty words. And let's try to be more patient and merciful to others, because, in their brokenness, these brothers and sisters of ours might be closer to God than we can imagine.

Br Richard Steenvoorde O.P.

Br Richard Steenvoorde O.P.



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