Parable of the two sons


By Fr Andrew Ekpenyong, at St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, Omaha, USA.


1. Easier to deceive. This coming Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023, Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of bankrupt crypto exchange FTX, is due to go on trial for fraud. Following the collapse of his $40 billion crypto empire, his trial will take place in New York’s Southern District, the same courthouse that prosecuted notorious Ponzi scammer, Bernie Madoff. Madoff has been described as “the admitted mastermind of the largest known Ponzi scheme in history, worth about $64.8 billion.” Thank goodness, he pleaded guilty and in 2009, was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Sadly, we will continue to have fraudsters and frauds because it is relatively easy to deceive and be deceived. But it is a lot harder to be converted to or to convert people to the truth. Conversion to truth and goodness is hard. Today’s Gospel reading (Mt 21:28-32) illustrates this: “even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” In fact, the conversion that enables tax collectors and prostitutes to enter the Kingdom of God, is greater than miracles. Why?

2. Greater than Miracles. With moral conversion, a creature’s will submits to God’s will and receives salvation. The endpoint of conversion is the Kingdom of God. The expected endpoint of miracles is conversion. Conversion is therefore greater than miracles. Moral goodness is greater than miracles. Charity is greater than miracles (I Cor 13:13). Miracles can help bring about conversion. St Peter saw the miraculous catch of fish and said: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Miracles can also fail to bring about conversion. More than 5000 people were miraculously fed with 5 loaves and two fish, but when Christ challenged this same crowd, 24 hours later, on the other side of the same Sea of Galilee, to believe his words about the Eucharist, this same crowd said: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). And one of the saddest events in Scripture followed: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (Jn 6:66). Dear sisters and brothers, I have a long list of people for whom I am praying that God blesses them with miracles. But conversion is greater than miracles and our Lord’s story in today’s Gospel reading calls us to lifelong conversion.


3. The Tension. Remarkably, the two sons in our Lord’s story or parable (Mt 21:28-32) are well reflected our own lives. Yes, they capture the conflicts that we all experience: the tension between the desires of my flesh and the desires of my spirit; the conflict between who I am and who I ought to be. These conflicts are also reflected in two prominent autobiographies: the Confessions of St Augustine, and the Story of my Misfortunes by Peter Abelard. The first son said he would not go to work on the field but later changed his mind and did the work. Augustine was like the first son. A promising scholar at the age of 17, he gave way to the promptings of the flesh and had a mistress who later bore him a son, Adeodatus. Thanks to the prayers of his mother, the preaching of St Ambrose and the grace of God that prompted him to read Rm 13:13-14, “not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts”, Augustine was transformed. He left the way of the flesh and gave us the words: “You have created us for yourself oh God and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. To say the least, He did God’s will thereafter. Augustine started out saying no but made a remarkable U-turn and became a saint. On the other hand, we had Peter Abelard, another promising young man. Peter was well brought up and had a great reputation for sanctity and learning. The future builder of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, entrusted to Abelard the education of his beautiful and talented niece, Heloise. But a romantic relationship between Abelard and Heloise led to the birth of their son outside wedlock, Astralabe. Abelard lost his fame. Hence, his confession was titled “Historia Calamitatum” or “Story of Misfortunes”. Clearly, Abelard started well, like the second son in today’s Gospel story. But he did not follow up on his good start. Unfortunately, he did what today’s 1st reading (Ez 18:25-28) pointed out: “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity…” Abelard made no frank U-turn as Augustine did. He continued his affair with Heloise and tried coverups which ended in tragedy for both of them. A 1988 film entitled “Stealing Heaven” uses the plot. I’m not judging but we do not have St Peter Abelard. Rather, we have St Augustine. In the lifelong struggle between who we are and who we ought to be, blessed are those who start well and end well, blessed are those who change to become who they ought to be no matter how late, by recognizing their faults and making a U-turn without excuses. Thank you, Lord, for the grace of conversion. May it be permanent. Amen.



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