What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him. Matthew 21: 28-32 (Gospel of Palm Sunday Night) First Sunday of Lent—Sunday of Orthodoxy
Good morning Prayer Team!
Just like there was a large amount of activity in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we experience the same thing in our churches. The churches are overflowing at the Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy. And just like the city of Jerusalem grew quiet between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, it seems that the mood of the church early in Holy Week is perhaps appropriately the same. In Jerusalem, the Lord was speaking quietly to His disciples about His Passion and about the end times. And in the Church, we have the Bridegroom Services on Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday evenings, as well as the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday mornings. These services do not have the “action” of the services later in the week, but rather are more quiet and reflective, matching the teachings of our Savior to His disciples, His last instructions to them before His Passion and Resurrection.
The theme of these services is Christ as the Bridegroom. We, the Church, are the bride. As the husband is traditionally the provider of the family, so Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, provides salvation to us. As the husband is supposed to be the leader in the family, Christ is the leader of our Church. As a father is a protector and servant, Christ is the same, as He dies for the Bride, the Church.
The dominant feature of these early services is the Icon of Christ the Bridegroom. It does not show a man in formal wear about to go to a wedding feast. It shows Jesus with the instruments of His Passion. His is clothed with a purple robe, His hands are bound, in His one hand is the reed with which He was beaten, and He is wearing the crown of thorns. His gaze, however, is not one of pain or sorrow but one of love. He invites us to the feast, which is Him. The “banquet” is salvation in the Kingdom of heaven. The “main course” of the banquet is Holy Communion.
The Gospels of early in Holy Week are not “action-filled,” but are didactic in nature, as Christ is either teaching the disciples or the Jewish temple leadership. Some of the teachings are gentle in tone, others more harsh, depending on the audience. But now, two thousand years later, WE are the audience and Christ addresses us, as disciples and members of His church, and we should hear these messages, be they gentle or harsh, with an ear that hears His compassion and love for us.
Today’s verses are from a short parable Jesus told to the chief priests and elders. Two sons are asked by their father to work in the field. One says he will not go, but then afterwards repents and goes. The second says he will go, but then does not. The moral of this story is that those who were not doing the will of God but who repented—the harlots and the tax collectors—will enter into the kingdom of God before the Jewish temple leadership, who spoke about love and compassion but had none, who said they were doing the work of God but really were not.
And the lesson for us today is that it is not talk that saves us or condemns us, but action. If we speak well, but our actions do not glorify God, then what good are the words? On the other hand, even if we don’t “get it” at first and we do wrong, if we repent and come back and do right, this is what pleases God. We have numerous examples of this—the Prodigal Son, Peter (who denied Christ), Paul (who persecuted the church), and the thief on the cross whom we will encounter on Good Friday, among many others.
While our mouths are what gets us into the most trouble, it is the hands that save us. Because loving God and loving our neighbor are not about talking, but about doing. I’m reminded of the verse in Luke 11:28, when Jesus says “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” It reminds us that it is not only enough to hear, or to talk about it, but to DO it is what matters. Christ, the Bridegroom, will come for each of us at some point. If He were to come today, what would He find you doing? Merely “hearing” the Word of God, or “doing” it!
Behold the Bridegroom comes in the midst of the night; and blessed is the servant, whom He shall find vigilant; and unworthy is he, whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, that you will not be overcome by sleep, lest you be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. Wherefore, rouse yourself, crying out: “Holy, Holy, Holy are You, our God, through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.” (Hymn of the Bridegroom, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)!
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