The Church is looking for commitment

Father John A. Kiley

Christ’s parable of the two sons, the one compliant and the other resistant, could easily be inserted into a collection of Aesop’s Fables or Native American Folklore without amending a single word. The filial contrast is simply between doers and talkers, two contrasting personality types that readers of the Quiet Corner encounter regularly in daily life. The doers are people who draw little attention to themselves but effectively contribute a great deal to their family, their community, their Church. The parents who maintain a loving household; the employee who arrives early and stays late; the church usher who conscientiously observes every detail of corona virus protocol – these are handy and helpful examples of people who get things done, who answer the call. These are the neighborhood movers and shakers.

Then again, the talkers are those people who indeed “talk a good game,” as the saying goes, but effect few results. These fellows have nothing to show for their posturing, no evidence of any sincere commitment. Their to-do lists never get carried out; their projects never get beyond initial stages; their good intentions never materialize. These people are literally “all talk.” 

Jesus wisely applies these commonsense observations from daily community and family life to the life of the Gospel that the Savior is currently preaching and that John the Baptist previously inaugurated in anticipation of Christ’s arrival. Both Jesus and John give mankind the option happily to hear the Good News of salvation and then embrace it efficiently and effectively in daily life, or regretfully to listen to the Gospel message but then ignore its content and resist its challenge. Both the Messiah and his herald knew that an authentic Christian community had to consist of those who not only hear the Word of God in their assemblies but then successfully keep to it in their daily dealings with family, friends and strangers.

Jesus, who came to save all mankind from sin and death, now has the unfortunate duty to point out to the chief priests and elders of the people who are his frequent audience that the response of these religious leaders to the Gospel message is being shamed by some much more receptive, if unlikely, fellow citizens. “Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” And Jesus frankly admits that this is not the first time that these religious leaders have missed the opportunity to believe and convert. Jesus insists directly, “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."

Jesus is understandably provoked that those religious leaders who have all the Scriptural and traditional resources of ancient Judaism at their disposal cannot, or will not, connect the dots and understand that Jesus Christ is indeed the fulfillment of every Biblical prophecy and every Jewish prayer. Jesus rightly understands that the failure of Jewish leadership to embrace the Gospel is scandalously accentuated by the unlikely but happy response to the Good News of Salvation by ancient society’s pitiable prostitutes and detested tax collectors. Priests, scribes and Pharisees, Judea’s ultimate insiders, might be able to cite the prophets and expound on the law, but their knowledge never spills over into their actions. The prostitutes from the streets and the agents of Rome, Judea’s least respected inhabitants, have conversely allowed their minds and their hearts and their hands to be touched by the words of Jesus as well as the instructions of John.  The rabble listened and were touched and then converted; the elite heard and they judged and then they turned away. 

Active Catholics who have heard the Word of God in their classrooms, at their liturgies and through their reading face the same challenge as the Jewish leaders in the time of Christ. The challenge faced by the Church-going Catholic community today is not so much knowledge as it is commitment. The doctrines and the canons of the Church are indeed familiar; but their consequences are not gladly performed and carried out in every aspect of Catholic daily life. Knowledge is sadly not power. Many can talk knowledgeably but those same do not always produce effectively. Many say, “Yes! I’ll go!” But then they leave the work of the Church undone. Christ expects and is entitled to results – especially from those to whom he has entrusted all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found in our Catholic heritage.