I’m sure we can all identify with one or even both of the brothers we hear about in the gospel today, who say one thing but do another. If you didn’t know the whole story, you might think that the first son was lazy and disrespectful and the second boy a paragon of virtue. Yet the parable ends with a twist of irony, and Our Lord demonstrates that people can change for the better, or for the worse, despite first impressions.
Our Lord’s story is a warning to us not to be lulled into a false sense of security based on status or personal merits. It’s a call to stay close to God, or else we may fall into the trap of thinking that we can maintain our spiritual lives on our own. It’s a call to make a reality check every day by examining our conscience and asking the Holy Spirit to alert us to any problems that may be trying to take root quietly in our lives.
We can only guess why the rebellious son changed his mind. Perhaps his conscience nagged at him until he did the right thing. Like him, we too can change for the better, no matter what our past choices may have been. By being open to Our Lord, who speaks to us in ways we may not expect and through people we may not expect, we will be among the repentant sinners and tax collectors whom God ushers into his kingdom. With Christ as our light and our guide, we can make steady, measurable progress towards doing the good God asks of us.
But the Christian life is not just about what we have to do to become more Christ-like. As we enter into the last few days of Advent, we should ask God to give us another infusion of expectation. God is powerful enough to turn even the most rebellious among us into loving and obedient children. And what could be a greater Christmas gift than the gift of inner transformation?