Oct 1, 2023
Ezek 18:25 – 28
Phil 2: 1 – 5
Matthew 21: 28 – 32
A theme common to all three readings is that of changing one’s mind. Our capacity to change
our minds leaves us open to hazard and to hope; hazard when we choose to “renounce our
integrity and to commit sin, hope when we choose to renounce sin to become law-abiding and
The Gospel story shows us the nobility of a humble change of mind. The first son “thought the
better of it.” He was open to change, to better thoughts. The second son was set and closed. The
ability to change one’s mind is essential to all healthy relationships. A mind that is closed,
whether from pride, stubbornness or stupidity, tends to destroy all relationships–e.g., when we
refuse to admit a mistake, when we are unwilling to apologise and change our ways, when we
persist in prejudice against a person or group, when we think we know it all.
The second reading, from Philippians, talks of a more specific and positive change of mind: “in
your minds, you must be the same as Christ Jesus’, or as an older translation put it, “let this
mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.” This is the direction in which we must be constantly
changing our minds day by day.
Paul emphasises one aspect in particular of the mind of Christ–his humble openness and self-
emptying in contrast to the conceited grasping and clinging of Adam: “he did not cling to (or
grasp at) his equality with God (as Adam did in Eden) but emptied himself..”
Ever since Adam, we are all born as clingers and graspers. The new-born babe has to have a
tight grip, and as we get older the grip often gets stronger. Clinging permeates all of life; we
cling to people (possessiveness) ; to things (greed) ; to power and position (ambition) ; we cling
to opinions (pride.) At the root of our clinging lies fear and insecurity. The apparently strong
person who clings aggressively to set ways or ideas is in reality full of fear. Notice your physical
reactions to fright; you clench up and grasp at something or someone, as a frightened child
clings to its mother.
In the Buddhist tradition, clinging is seen as the root of all suffering. When you are unhappy, it
can be enlightening to pursue the question “What am I clinging to?” It might be an idea, a plan,
an expectation, power, possessions, reputation, a place, a person, health, even life itself. All wise
traditions recommend a light grasp of everything. Anxious clinging leads to misery. As soon as
we begin to relax our tight grasp and let go, we begin to be free and happy. (“Letting go” is a
useful modern equivalent for “self-emptying.”)
Jesus did not cling. He knew that reality could be trusted, because at the heart of reality is
“Abba–dear Father,” and that underneath everything, even death, are the everlasting arms. So he
did not cling even to life, “accepting death, death on a cross.” “Into your hands,. I commend my
spirit.” May this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.
There is something charming about the first son in today’s Gospel. If anything, there is a lot of
kick in him and he has the guts to say no when he feels like saying so. It is in contrast with the
second son that the saving grace of the first becomes evident. To start with, the second one is a
yes-man, but he is worse than that. He is a hypocrite to boot. He is a spineless jellyfish, ‘yes’ in
words (doesn’t cost anything) but ‘no’ in deeds.
The charm of the first son is in his sincerity, his guilelessness, lack of pretension and double
play. His rebellion is a negative expression of positive traits such as sincerity and openness.
One may rebel (and at times ought to) but, given the willingness to review one’s actions and
motivations, this augurs growth precisely because it is open to truth. Hiding or suppression of
feelings, often the sign of a closed and suspicious mind, leads to stagnation.
The two sons illustrate two types of people. And we know whom Jesus recommends and why.
By this parable Jesus drives home a very basic truth about man, fallen man at that. It is
dangerous to pretend we are all right. We are not. We are sinners and rebellious. Accept it and
REPENT. It is an ideal thing to be able to say always ‘yes’ to God. But often we say ‘no’.
Why not accept it rather than pretend to be OK? Jesus came to save sinners. And if we are not
sinners we have no salvation. Do we believe this? If we believe, let us repent – in order to be
It is also to be noted that the parable tells us neither group is perfect. It is not a matter of
choosing between the two sons – the one who refused to go to the vineyard but went and
worked, or the one who broke his promise. The ideal son or daughter says to the father, “Yes,
Sir,” and proceeds to do what is asked. Promises can never take the place of performance and
fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds. The second son replied courteously to his
father, but his courtesy was illusory and deceptive. True courtesy is obedience, a ‘yes’ willingly
and generously said and followed up.