December 15, 2020
First Reading Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13
Gospel Matthew 21:28-32
Artwork by Madeleine S. | Class of 2023
According to Monsignor Charles Pope, a person of integrity is someone whose “passions are completely subordinated to his reason,” and who thus experiences “a harmonious relationship between flesh and spirit.” One who has integrity is whole and undivided. He both knows the good and is able actually to do the good.
Today’s Gospel shows us an example of both integrity and its opposite. Jesus’ parable begins with a father asking the first son to work in the vineyard. “The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.” The father makes the same request of the second son, who replies, “‘Yes sir,’ but did not go” (Matthew 21:29 – 30). The first son is a repentant sinner: though he initially refused to do his father’s will, he “changes his mind” and goes to work in the vineyard.
The phrase “changes his mind” is a translation of the Greek term metanoia, which Pope John Paul II explains is “a radical change of mind and heart, a turning from evil to enter the kingdom of justice and love.” This first son has a well-formed conscience, for he realizes he has sinned when he defied his father and ultimately repents of that sin and obeys his father’s will. This son is growing in integrity, for though he sins, eventually he not only perceives the good he neglected to do but also actually does the good. His behavior is conforming to his knowledge of the good; his behavior and knowledge are of one accord.
The second son, on the other hand, does not turn from evil. Indeed, by never mentioning the second son’s change of mind, the parable implies he planned to disobey his father’s order even before he said, “Yes sir.” This son is so comfortable with duplicity that the deceit rolls off his tongue, and he does not give it a second thought. This son lacks integrity. Instead of being whole and undivided, he is fractured, for while he says one thing, he does the opposite. His behavior is hypocritical. With this parable, Jesus invites us to reflect on whether we identify more with the first or second son.
While each of us sins, hopefully we are more like the first son, in that our consciences unsettle us when we sin and spur us to repent and grow in integrity.
Father Paul Scalia offers two suggestions for how we can become people of integrity. First, he writes that we must devote ourselves to behaving in accord with the truth. Secondly, he recommends frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Penance so that we can be receive the grace that conforms us to God’s will for our lives. After all, Father Scalia points out, it’s far better to be a repentant sinner than a hypocrite.
By Stephen Barbarossa '09
Theology and Math Teacher