Year A 26th Sunday: Matthew 21:28-32

21:28   'What is your opinion?

A man had two sons. He went and said to the first,

"My boy, go and work in the vineyard today."

21:29   He answered, "I will not go," but afterwards thought better of it and went.

21:30   The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered,

"Certainly, sir," but did not go.

21:31   Which of the two did the father's will?'

They said, 'The first.' Jesus said to them,

'In truth I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes

are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.

21:32   For John came to you, showing the way of uprightness,

but you did not believe him,

and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did.

Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.


Just before these words Jesus made his royal entrance into Jerusalem riding a donkey just as Salomon, son of David, did when he was enthroned as a king (1 Kings 1:44-45). Immediately he had swept out of the temple the merchants, the merchandise and all the stuff which had to do with the offerings of animals. This event was illustrated by the withering of a fig tree. The fig tree which did not bear fruit, was the symbol of God’s people which did not bear fruit. The tree withered. The cleansing of the temple and the event with the fig tree were an indication that the old religious rituals were replaced by the teaching of Jesus. Not the temple rituals are essential, but the good social behaviour of people.

The parable of today is a third example of this mystery.


The Greek text doesn’t mention ‘sons’, but ‘children’. The father (= God) has two children. He asks both of them to work in his vineyard: that is to spread love and charity, mercy and forgiveness. The first one says ‘no’, but repents and finally he does ‘yes’. When Jesus gives his explanation of this parable, it becomes clear that by this ‘child’ he means the ‘tax collectors and prostitutes’ (vs.31), that is to say, those who were considered sinners. For by being a tax collector or a prostitute they obviously did not do what the Lord asked of his people. They were the ones who said ‘no’. But after hearing the preaching of John the Baptist they repented and finally did what the Lord asked them to do. Finally they said ‘yes’.

The other child said ‘yes’, but after all he did ‘no’. He represents the ones who lived meticulously according to the ritual rules of God’s Law, but had forgotten that God is not asking for offerings, but charity (cfr. Matthew 9:13; 12:7; 23:23).

Picture Meditation

The artist composes the picture to a diamond. In the lower left corner Jesus is telling the parable. Behind him a glimpse of Saint Peter. Before him an attentively listening girl. In the opposite corner – lower right: the clergy to whom Jesus directs his parable....

In the heart of the diamond, the parable of the father with his two sons is pictured. On the right: a son with glasses which give him a diligent appearance. He sits beside a book case and reads a book (the Bible?). Of course he says ‘Yes’ to his father. But we don’t see him working in the vineyard, pictured in the top of the diamond. On the left in the centre of the diamond: the other son lying in his bed and covering his ear. He obviously says ‘No’ to his father. But later we see him - blue jeans, orange shirt - shuffling to the vineyard, on the left, and working in it, on the right.

In the three remaining corners around the diamond we see the adaptation of the parable. In the upper left corner the tax collectors and prostitutes are listening to John the Baptist. The members of the clergy (they represent the Scribes and the Pharisees) turn away and go their own way... In the upper right corner we see how those who were listening to John the Baptist are taken up in a heavenly light. And in the lower right corner...

What is the meaning of the figure half visible behind them? His picture rhymes with Peter in the other corner.

Do I recognise myself in one of the pictured people?

Or do I recognise people who played a role in my life?

Do I know the feeling, the deep happiness, to have done the wrong things and to be forgiven?

Looking at this picture, what could be my prayer?

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J