Matthew 21:28-32 | 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Cleaning Up God’s Kitchen
My mom kept a house so clean you could eat off her floors, so there was always a bit of tension when I asked to bake. “You’re going to clean up, right? Really clean up, the way I’ve shown you.” Sure, sure. Every time she let me cook, it was an act of faith on her part. Since I couldn’t live up to her standards, I knew I wouldn’t even try before I even started the mixer. My clean-up would happen by my criteria.
I wonder if that’s how the Pharisees and other religious leaders thought. Their teaching was going to be to their standards—regardless of what God wanted.
But when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time on a donkey, He knew He had only days left in His already paltry three years of ministry. He knew the people still didn’t get it—they didn’t understand Him or the true nature of the kingdom or the nature of a true savior. But Jesus loved these people—all of them—so His parables got blunt. The clock was ticking; the time for metaphors had passed.
They know the right answer to Jesus’s question after telling them the Parable of the Two Sons: “Which of the two did the Father’s will?” (v. 31) The leaders answer confidently and correctly, “The first.” But they still don’t see His point. They don’t see themselves in the parable.
They certainly don’t think they are like the first son. Unlike him, from the beginning they said “yes” to the call. They are equally sure they are not like the second son, who clearly messed up in the follow through. Not only did the religious leaders say “yes,” but they still perch on that calling. They’ve never wavered. Instead, they seem to think they are an unreferenced third group, one that has done nothing wrong.
But Jesus wanted them to see that they had done something wrong, that we all do things wrong. Some of our sins are just more blatant than others. So Jesus compared them to the lowest of society: “the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom before you” (v. 31). He wanted to make it clear so there’s no mistaking
His meaning. Saying yes to God but then doing it our way (and, worse, thinking we’re right) is the equivalent of saying yes and not doing it at all. When I “cleaned up” the kitchen, my mom still had to wipe everything down and mop the floor.
Sometimes Mother would yell when she wielded her sponge. She was fed up and tired. She just wanted me to accept the responsibilities that came with baking privileges. Jesus does the same. “Look,” He says. “You are as messed up as that prostitute down the street. Find your sin and name it. Figure out how you can do better. But don’t tell me you are doing God’s will.” God’s will is different for each of us, but it never means thinking we are better than anyone else. God’s will always involves examining our motives and cleaning up yet another mess deep in our souls.