Which of the two did what the father wanted?” They answered, “The first.” And Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you: the publicans and the prostitutes are ahead of you on the way to the kingdom of heaven. For John came, to show you the way of goodness, and you did not believe him; but the publicans and the prostitutes did. You were witnesses of this, but you neither repented nor believed him.
We all know people whose manners are brusque, whose speech is blunt and curt. When we first meet them, we have the impression of meeting ogres. But, if we get to know them better, we discover that their rough exterior hides a heart of gold. At any time we can ask them a favor, even a big favor, and these toughies will first rant and rave—then grant you your favor with royal prodigality. Other people are the very opposite. They are all smiles and oily protests of friendship. But when you need them, they disappear in thin air. Which, of these two kinds of people, do we appreciate more?
In today’s gospel reading Jesus makes a similar comparison between, on the one hand, a grumbling son who first balks and shows bad manners but obeys his father and, on the other hand, a polite and well-mannered son who mouths his compliance but does not obey his father. This second son represents the scribes and the Pharisees who seem pious but reject John the Baptist, God’s prophet, whereas the first son represents the sinners who converted at John’s preaching.
What kind of son, what kind of daughter am I?